leader and master tactician, the league's premier passer is also unquestionably
its best player. Once he gets talking, you quickly understand why
There is a Peyton
Manning Fan Club among NFL quarterbacks, a group effusive in its praise and
admiration for the Colts passer. Tom Brady dines with Manning a few times every
year and considers him a good friend. "Cool guy," Brady says. Carson
Palmer has driven from Cincinnati to Indianapolis, incognito, to watch him
play. In Kansas City's playoff loss to Indianapolis last year, Chiefs rookie
Brodie Croyle kept straying from the offensive area near the bench to get
closer to the field so he could watch Manning.
Usually you can
find athletes in every sport to dis a great player (off the record) for some
kind of perceived fault. Not with Manning. Now that he's won a Super Bowl, he's
ascended to a level at which he is practically beyond criticism. SI rates him
the No. 1 player in the NFL--big surprise there--and the people he goes up
against have no problem with that. "It's not even close," says Broncos
coach Mike Shanahan. "He's the best."
going forward just might be, Could he become the best quarterback who ever
played? He's durable, having missed one play because of injury in nine seasons.
At 31 he's six very good seasons away from the alltime records for passing
yards and touchdowns. (Dan Marino holds those marks, though Brett Favre is on
track to overtake him in both categories.) But given the NFL championships on
the résumés of Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham and Joe Montana--not to mention
Brady, who could add to his three--Manning would probably have to win another
Super Bowl or two to be considered the best. Unless he puts his numbers out of
His peers see him
as a guileless, innovative competitor. As he enters his 10th NFL season, how
does Manning see himself, and his team?
"I play because I love the game, not because it's what I'm supposed to be
doing. I think as soon as I'm not excited to be driving to training camp,
that's when it'll be over. You know, it's an hour-and-15-minute drive from
Indy. I loaded an oldies CD [wife] Ashley just got for me for the drive, then
sent out a mass text message to all my teammates whose numbers I have, which is
a large majority of them. I wrote, 'Hey boys, let's go bust our asses in camp
and do this thing again.' And it was exciting to see all the responses. Booger
McFarland saying, 'That's what I'm talking about.' Dwight Freeney goes, 'Hell
yeah.' Dungy gave me an 'Amen.' Priceless. So I was excited to be coming up
here again. I can't imagine thinking the day before camp, Golly, I wish I
didn't have to go."
worry about the teammate that comes up and asks me for an autograph. You don't
really want that. I'm like, 'Oh, this is for your brother?' And they're like,
'No, no, it's for me.' And I'm, 'Man, I need you to block for me. I don't need
you to look up to me. You need to be my equal.' "
"You like to
have some guys on your offense who really bother a defense, some
pain-in-the-ass guys. That's what Bill Belichick always called [wide receiver]
Brandon Stokley. That's what [tight end] Dallas Clark is. Last year Clark gets
hurt against the Eagles, and I hear the dreaded 'ACL' on the sideline. I'm
throwing my hat down and saying, 'That's pretty much going to do it for us.' We
can win some games, but they're doubling Marvin [Harrison] already, daring us
to beat them with someone else. Dallas rehabs his ass off, and he gets back for
the Dolphins game at the end of the regular season to get the rust off and
against Baltimore and New England plays like an absolute madman. I mean,
against New England in the AFC Championship Game, he was the key to that
comeback, those plays down the middle. Being a pain in the ass means making the
defense declare what it's going to do. If you put your linebacker on him and
have your good run defense, then you have pass-defense problems. If you put
your nickelback on him, that's probably your third-best cover guy, and then
what do you do with the extra receiver?"
"I'm just a
football meathead. I did Saturday Night Live just to have fun. I'm a lot more
nervous for a game. On Saturday Night Live the people who are nervous are
trying to get Alec Baldwin to put them in his TV show. But preparing for
Saturday Night Live was like preparing for a football game. I told them I
wanted it to be funny. I went up there on a Monday. It's the same as a football
week: Monday and Tuesday you put the plan in; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
you practice, although you only do each script the one time. The nervous thing
is on Wednesday, you sit around with the whole crew, cast, cameras and makeup.
They give you a stack of scripts and about 30 minutes to read all 40 of them on
your own. Then Lorne Michaels reads the scene, and you have to do the reading.
There's nothing about character or whatever, and you sound like a moron in
front of these people. That's when they decide what's funny and what's
"I'd like to
do one of those reality-TV shows on the ultimate debate--what is the toughest
job in sports? You'd put a pitcher in there, a golfer, a basketball player, a
tennis player, a hockey player, a football player. I wouldn't have to be the
football representative. I'd probably put Brett Favre in there, but I'd write
his material. And I would say you can't compare anything to quarterback. A
pitcher has no time factor, no hurry. He doesn't like the call from the
catcher, he steps off, doesn't waste a timeout. I haven't found one job that
really compares to what the quarterback has to go through. You take all those
things: time, weather, noise and then you get to dealing with the rush, dealing
with the speed. And you truly have the game in your hands."
think about teams stealing our signals. I know New England films me when we're
up there. I know Mike Shanahan has tried. I tell our backup quarterbacks in the
preseason, 'Don't signal the receivers. If the guy doesn't know the route,
bring him over and tell him.' I try to change mine up and mix it up, especially
when we play teams with guy who've left here."