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Peyton Manning, “Class” of 2016

AFC Championship – New England Patriots v Denver Broncos

Justin Edmonds / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after defeating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images/AFP

Tod Worner - published on 02/04/16

On the eve of Super Bowl 50, which may be his "last rodeo," the Denver Broncos quarterback shows what real heroes are made of

[Author’s Note: I am an unabashed Peyton Manning fan for reasons outlined in my two pieces, “Regarding My Wife & Peyton Manning” and “Why Peyton Matters.”]

Welcome to Super Bowl Media Day.

When I first saw those words, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Media Day is a quirky day during Super Bowl week when players from opposing teams take freewheeling questions from an eclectic (if not giddy) band of reporters. Located this year at the SAP Center in San Jose, the frenzied Q&A happens on the main floor, while eager (and paying) fans populate the seats in the stands. It is a day that has seen Hall of Fame athletes interviewed by creepy hand puppets and unsettling superheroes as well as Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch hypnotically answering, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

But this year, I encountered something even more unexpected.

Class.

When 39-year-old Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was seated at the podium, few could have expected the depth of his answers. After all, one might think he has a few things on his mind. While contemplating what may be his last professional football game, the pressure to win (and exorcise the trouncing demons of Super Bowl 48), the strategy to beat an unstoppable Cam Newton and licking his wounds after each game’s physical punishment, Peyton had to indulge questions about his favorite Coldplay song, wish fans in China a “Happy New Year” (twice!) and engage a strange puppet in awkward dialogue.

But in spite of it all, Peyton found a way to maintain a warm and introspective professionalism. About his oft-mentioned exchange with New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback (and ostensible nemesis) Tom Brady, after Denver’s AFC Championship victory, Peyton reflected,

“Sometimes you want to tell somebody something man to man. It’s better than telling them via text or even a handwritten letter, or seeing them at a banquet … I’m aware this could be [our last time playing against them] and I wanted to tell both of them I really have enjoyed these games. It has been part of my football life and both of those guys have been good for me and not so good for me and so I took the time to tell them.”

Regarding his brother, Eli, the New York Giants quarterback, being one of many (including Peyton) surviving Super Bowl MVPs to be honored at this year’s game, Peyton said, “I’d love to have a chance to run out there and stand next to him. That’d be kind of a neat moment. I understand the significance of playing in Super Bowl 50, and obviously, having my family here to be part of it is important.”

Peyton thoughtfully deflected accolades and went out of his way to credit coach Gary Kubiak’s ostensible’s patient judgment in sitting him out during injury, honor the defense for their work and name the kicker and (often obscured) punter the best players on offense. And he was especially magnanimous in his praise of the quickly eclipsed back-up quarterback:

“[Quarterback] Brock Osweiler has done an awesome job during the time he was in there. We wouldn’t be here without him in the games that he played and helped us win.”

When asked about the formidable Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, Cam Newton, Peyton answered, “[Cam’s] passion, his enthusiasm for the game, I think it’s great for football. What he’s done in a short time as an NFL quarterback, he’s been awesome. … There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be named the MVP.”

And when he was approached about his legacy, he genuinely responded,

“I would like to be known as a really good teammate for all the players I have played with. I’ve worked hard to be a good teammate and having good relationships with my teammates has been important to me … and also having the respect of the coaches I have played for and coached against and the players I have played against … and also just that I love football very, very much and always have.”

So let’s see. A sense of honor, devotion to family, infectious passion, genuine kindness, winsome humility and uncommon magnanimity. Who knew these values, which Catholics hold so dear, could be found in a quarterback at Super Bowl Media Day?

How wonderfully refreshing.

TodWorneris a husband, father, Catholic convert and practicing internal medicine physician. He blogs for Patheos asA Catholic Thinker.

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