My favorite Democrat friends are fretting about the possibility of Peyton Manning entering politics. I think he’d be great but he hasn’t said a word about becoming assistant president or even international good guy.
Peyton, in fact, is very busy doing his own thing. He is the new strategic advisor to Riddell, the company that makes helmets. He is deeply engrossed in two-a-day practices for his role as host of the upcoming ESPY Awards. He is pondering what passes for his likeness on a bronze statue to be unveiled in Indianapolis. He is considering a better-fitting tux in celebration of a dull election.
The Colts are sculpting their recollection of the former star for October presentation. The team will retire his jersey and give Manning another boost, as if he needs one, toward football immortality.
The Honors Court of the National Football Foundation picked Peyton for December enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame. Unanimous sounds a bit snooty. Let’s just say there were no dissenting votes.
Contrary to a rumor started in Florida, this was not a fix. It is of no significance that Peyton’s dad chairs the foundation. It is no more than incidental that UT grad Gene DeFilippo is a member of the court.
Peyton did have some Tennessee help with his career – blockers, receivers and a famous coach – but the spectacular numbers are listed beside his name.
Old Gators belittle him for never defeating Florida. They snicker and brag about 4-0. That is a misrepresentation. Tennessee played quarterback by committee in September 1994. Todd Helton started. Peyton had little to do with the 31-0 rout.
He was more involved as a sophomore. It took him 15 seconds to put Tennessee up by a touchdown. The Vols were ahead by 17 when they shifted into reverse. Peyton’s stats were OK, good enough to win, but Tennessee lost, 62-37. Manning did not play defense.
He led a spirited comeback in 1996 but fell short. He threw three touchdown passes in 1997 but the Gators romped.
It is obvious that the College Football Hall of Fame ignored the haughty Gators’ point of view. The Hall praised Peyton as a 1997 consensus first team All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up who won the Campbell Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Sullivan Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
He was SEC player of the year. He is Tennessee’s all-time leader in wins (39), passing yards (11,201) and TD passes (89). He completed 62.5 percent. Eighteen times he produced 300 or more yards. He ran for 12 touchdowns (go ahead and smile).
What Peyton did in the NFL, what he gave and gives the university, his generosity toward underprivileged youth through the PeyBack Foundation and what he has accomplished in business pushed his college career into the long-ago background. That he is the 20th Tennessee player to achieve Hall of Fame status may make it sound ordinary. It is not.
More than 5.12 million men have played college football. A relative few won all-America honors. Only 937 are in the Hall of Fame.
Football achievements are of prime consideration but citizenship is weighed. There are some fancy words about “carrying the ideals of football forward into relations with community and fellow man, plus love of country.”
Peyton as White House caretaker some day? Why not? He’s a natural leader, tireless worker and a fabulous communicator. He has name recognition plus legendary determination, more than enough intellect and some spare change. His wife, Ashley, is bright, funny and pretty.
Peyton has far more presidential class and dignity than some but he is a warrior. He inherited the package. There was a time when he took himself and everything very seriously. He has learned to laugh.
And he is entertaining. I enjoy Peyton, even when he appears on goofy TV shows. He is unique. For no noticeable reason, he still, occasionally, exclaims “Omaha, Omaha!”
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is [email protected]