Peyton Manning is a living legend. A two-time Super Bowl Champion, five-time MVP, 14-time Pro Bowler, and guaranteed Hall of Famer – Peyton is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, while manning a physique so unimpressive that former teammates dubbed him the fourth most athletic Manning (after Archie, Eli, Cooper, and Olivia). Peyton has a bad foot, a messed up neck, a nerveless arm and a drive to succeed so relentless that he lasted his lucky number of years in the league: 18.
A multimillionaire professional athlete still doing D1 athlete workouts at 34 years old and pushing himself so far in returns from injury that disbelievers have been alleging and investigating the use of PEDs, Peyton has put in more work than Rihanna’s hit single. This is a guy who, as a high school senior, sat in the weight room reading every piece of hate mail he had been sent for not declaring to his father’s alma mater Ole Miss, shrugged them off, and continued to work out.
This is a young man who, as a college junior ready for the NFL Draft, graduated with the highest GPA in his major and studied tape of Letterman before being hosted on the “Late Show with David Letterman”. Peyton Manning’s work ethic allowed him to break through seemingly impenetrable barriers while setting a new bar for dedication. Peyton, or as he is more fittingly known, The Sheriff, merited the respect of rivals like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, is subject of books on preparation, and was an example that purportedly pushed even the maniacal Kobe Bryant to work harder. It’s all culminated in a final Super Bowl win at 39 years old, a retirement, and now – this groundbreaking look at his 15 most awe-inspiring instances of work ethic.
15 Working For That First Penny
Rahim Moore is a free agent safety who spent time around Peyton Manning as a sophomore player on the Broncos in 2012. It’s widely known that Peyton works hard, but coming off of four surgical procedures throughout 2011 and joining a new club for the first time in his professional career – Rahim got floor-seats to a heretofore unprecedented show of work ethic. What Rahim saw was an old millionaire with a guaranteed starting spot working harder than the practice squad or scout team – guys who hadn’t even earned a check yet.
In Rahim’s own words: “We know when he gets on the field, he’s going hard – like as if he never had a penny. That’s how hard he works. You would think he never had done a commercial, none of that. He’s training like he’s a free agent.”
14 The 40-Year-Old High Schooler
A lot of people, when looking back on high school, can remember good times and shudder at the thought of less-good times, inevitably cringing at their then-immature selves. Not Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning has had the mind of a 40-year-old since he was five. Apparently a coach used to tell Peyton’s peewee baseball team that they tied in each of their losses, leading Peyton to complain to his dad that ‘the coach must think we’re stupid.’
In high school, Peyton’s commitment to the mental side of things only deepened. National #1 recruit Peyton’s dedication to team leadership didn’t soften with his graduation and commitment to the D1 Tennessee Volunteers. In fact, Peyton’s younger teammates recall that upon his graduation Peyton took all of the football team’s new captains out to lunch so that he could discuss the importance of their captainship with them for over an hour.
13 The Ice Tub Photo
The ice tub photo went, understandably, viral. It’s the ancient mariner himself, Sheriff Peyton Manning, seated with his foot in an ice tub, a tablet in his hands, and his crown: a helmet, atop his head. While it might look a little ridiculous and over-the-top, as with most examples of Peyton’s preparation – it makes complete sense in context. Peyton, still dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, was asked to rehab while the rest of the team hit the practice field.
Peyton decided that he would wear his helmet so that he could hear the calls being made out on the practice field and keep himself mentally in sync with the team’s progress and tempo. Meanwhile, the eyes of the predator did not want to dwell on the image of his cold foot – so Sheriff was pulling up tape of the plays that the team was running so that he could get into some heavier analysis.
12 Lil Wayne's Uncle's Story
Lil Wayne is a famous rapper who likes himself some Peyton Manning (Weezy on Peyton: “He is special. He is one of a kind.”). Lil Wayne’s posse included an older roadie who Weezy considered an uncle, and this roadie happened to be a prisoner on a work-release program who used to have to clean the field of the high school attended by Cooper, Eli, and Peyton Manning.
This story speaks to how regimented Peyton’s workouts have always been, how early the Mannings get on their grind, and is best told in Weezy’s words: “Because he was a prisoner, he would have to clean the schoolyard at 4 or 5 in the morning. There was not one morning, 4:30, 5 in the morning, he wouldn’t see Archie, Peyton, Cooper, or Eli out on the field. He’d see Archie throwing passes to Cooper, or Peyton throwing routes to Cooper.”
11 Team Leader With a Very Big Team (Who Need Some Very Big Rings)
Peyton Manning spent 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts before taking 2011 off to deal with his neck and deciding to join the Broncos in 2012. We will soon spend more time discussing the more traditional examples of work ethic and preparation that went into his development at Tennessee or his rehabilitation and eventual return to the sport for the Broncos, but I want to take a moment to consider just how all-encompassing his preparation and leadership have been.
Upon joining the Broncos, Peyton requested a team media guide and info on personnel so that, in conjunction with the team’s playbook and players, he could also familiarize himself with all of the organization’s employees. A team leader is typically just expected to lead the guys who will hit the field, but it’s obvious that Peyton’s leadership knows no bounds.
10 Two-Minute Drills
This example of unrelenting work ethic comes courtesy of Colts guard and teammate Ryan Lilja who remembers (a mid-30s) Peyton’s method of preparation for two-minute drills. Two-minute drills are often the ultimate test of a quarterback’s readiness as they rush their team downfield making snap decisions with rare chances to catch their breath between calling plays. Since so much of a two-minute drill is spent jogging, Peyton would hop on the treadmill to go through the entire drill’s portfolio of play-calls and gesticulations.
A little confusing for the rest of the gym until they thought it through, as Ryan Lilja eventually did: "The first time I saw that I was like, 'What is he doing?’ I'd never seen that before, but then I realized it makes perfect sense. This guy is a next-level thinker."
9 By Any Means Necessary: Getting Ahead
Sometimes dedication to your craft can go too far, bringing otherwise lawful actors to not-so-lawful extremes. Granting myself the excuse of ignorance on the (actually unlawful) Peyton-butt-trainer-face incident during his time with the Tennessee Vols – let's instead focus on the quasi-jerk move a freshman Sheriff pulled while trying to get ahead in the Tennessee depth chart. After getting to Tennessee six weeks early to start his workouts, 3rd stringer Peyton and the other QBs were scheduled to meet with head coach Phillip Fulmer – but, timely as usual, Peyton was the only one there.
When Fulmer's staff went to investigate the whereabouts of Peyton's competition, they found them all locked out of the facilities, hollering and banging on the door. Peyton had shut the doors behind him so that the young blossoming Sheriff could get an extra hour of alone time gameplanning with the coach.
8 The Old Man Prepares Like a Teenager
It's widely known that aging increases your propensity for injury and your youth is your most physically fortuituous period. Peyton Manning's work ethic must not have gotten the memo because at 34 he was working out with D1 Sports Training’s regimen for college-athletes. The program Peyton engaged in has been covered by the bodily-exertion-fans over at MuscleProdigy and spans core strength, flexibility, and agility exercises. Core exercises included a variety of medicine-ball throws and the Russian twist (Putin’s favorite). Flexibility went between, guaranteeing to keep Captain 18 limber. And agility exercises finish the regimen with an assortment of reactive tennis ball shuffles, pass drops with over-speed or bungee resistance, mini-hurdle shuffles, speed ladders, and the globally renown “ickey” shuffle.
Similarly, Peyton has been rumored to bench 350 lbs and I suspect he may have chosen the Broncos so he could throw a ball over the Rockies every morning.
7 Self-Loathing on the Path to Greatness
Dwelling on our inadequacies is little fun, ensuring self-reflective disappointment. By the Peyton Manning code of work ethic: it is most beneficial for your development to analyze (and learn from) your biggest failures, which is why he always rewatches lost Super Bowls and rough seasons. "If you ever feel like that's not important -- like, 'Hey, I don't need to watch last season; I know what we did; I know what I did wrong' -- no, you don't know. You need to watch it. Watch the bad plays. It's not fun to watch bad plays, to sit there and say, 'That's a bad decision' and 'That's a really bad decision' and 'Horrible read.' ... No matter how old you are, you need to go into that prepared to be constructively criticized and learn how to grow out of the mistakes every year."
6 One Phoenix Elicits Another
Brandon Stokley and Peyton Manning had worked together in the past, on a little project called the Indianapolis Colts, but following a tough time with the New York Giants – Brandon was on retirement's edge. When Peyton Manning made his return to the league, Stokley decided to return as well, joining Omaha's Sheriff and the Broncos. When asked what incited the Stokes to join his ex-leader, he noted that Peyton's high standards and preparation made everyone around him better: “It just makes the players work harder and want to do better. With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else.” Brandon's expectations were proven reasonable as the 35-year-old wideout resurged to the tune of five touchdowns in his Peyton-led revival.
5 Scoring, Helping, and the In-Between
The “American Dream” is typically that you work at what you love, get compensated for that work, use that compensation to reward you and your family with stuff, and then if there’s a lot left over – you give some to the less-fortunate. For Peyton Manning and his meticulous commitment to all he’s involved in, there is no “leaving charity for later,” there is “working around the duties of charity.” The Sheriff once played a Monday Night Football game, took a late flight back to Indianapolis, and, having a charity event planned for 8:30 am – Peyton got to the Colts facility at 4 am to get his daily workout in with enough time to satisfy his charitable obligations.
When you’re a millionaire getting knocked down for a living, you can afford to either skip one workout or be satisfied with the signing of a check for charity instead of attending events yourself. When you’re Peyton Manning, you see your commitments through.
4 Tape: Joe Harrington Meets the Competition
When Peyton got to Tennessee as a freshman, he met technological coordinator Joe Harrington and started watching seasons of tape. Joe recalls: “He started watching right away. He really got into it. He was like, ‘This is awesome.’ He was the first player that ever showed any interest in the work that I do.” Sometimes Joe would feel one-upped though. Joe once had to tell Peyton: “Listen guy, I bring the tapes around here, OK?” But having forgotten a tape the coach wanted to see, had to ask an intern to go ‘find that tall, lanky new guy walking around the lobby’ and to make sure ‘not bring him back here.’ Minutes later, a beaming Peyton walks in with the tape: “You need me now, don’t you?” Ready as ever. Joe summarizes Peyton’s interest succinctly: “He has a little ‘rain man’ in him.”
3 Indiana's Tax Code
In 1998, recent Coach of the Year for the Arizona Cardinals, Bruce Arians, was a Colts assistant coach having the young Sheriff in for a pre-draft interview. A strong candidate for the #1 pick, Peyton’s commitment to preparation was on full display as he entered the interview with a notebook full of his own questions – with topics ranging from the Colts’ offense to the Indiana tax code.
Arians, a colorful character in his own right, describes the impression left by young Omaha: "I remember thinking, ‘Who interviewed who here?’ … I called him the piranha. I could never get him enough information, whether it was about the opponent or our gameplan or anything else." A 20-year-old thinking to ask about tax codes in the middle of football talk? If that’s not an absurd level of preparatory covering of all your bases, then I don’t know what is.
Cooper Manning was supposed to be the family’s star, but the exceptional wideout’s career was cut short before college when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis (where the spine narrows and nerves become pinched). While Peyton never endured spinal stenosis, those unfortunate spinal genes came into play when he missed all of 2011 with a herniated disc in his neck, resulting in four surgeries and cervical vertebral fusion complications leading to nerve damage and loss of sensation in his throwing arm.
Not only did he go through that entire ordeal, recover, and lead the Broncos to success – he also fought back from a torn quadricep and played through plantar fasciitis along the way. Peyton had MVP awards and a Super Bowl under his belt when his mid-30s body and neck tried telling him to cut it out, but the Sheriff's dedication to his craft proved insurmountable.
1 "The Manning Effect"
John Elway claims that the entire Broncos organization got better when Peyton Manning signed their contract. Matt Hasselbeck claimed that despite Peyton’s departure from Indianapolis, 'you can still kind of feel [Peyton] in the building.' Tom Moore, a coach since 1961, claimed Peyton made him better. Brandon Stokley, elaborating on Peyton's impact on those around him suggested we call it "the Manning Effect."
This is a guy who, in 2013, called his to get tape of a play they ran in 1996: "Flip right duo X motion fake roll 98 block pass special," before using said play for an NFL completion. A guy who, following four surgeries at 36 years old, led the Broncos from the 23rd ranked offense to the 4th and 14 teammates to career-best seasons. The Sheriff will always symbolize dedication to your craft. And, as a wise man once said: God Bless America. God Bless Football.