Sports editor’s column: Thanks for the memories, Sheriff |

Sports editor’s column: Thanks for the memories, Sheriff

For a large portion of my life, Peyton Manning has been a constant force in the NFL.

Over the last 18 years, No. 18 has been near the top of the league in nearly every statistical passing category. He’s also been one of the hardest quarterbacks to beat in the regular season, while posing a serious threat to playoff opponents.

With two Super Bowl rings and numerous career passing records, it’s clear to me that Manning is in the discussion for greatest quarterback of all time, joining the likes of Tom Brady and Joe Montana.

Think about this: 71,940 career passing yards, 539 career touchdown passes, a 96.5 career QB rating and a 65.3 career completion percentage. Manning holds the career passing yards and career touchdown passes records, while sitting fourth all-time in career completion percentage and fifth all-time in career QB rating.

For 18 years, Manning was a must-watch every single Sunday during the season and playoffs. From his first snap in the NFL, Manning was a transcendent figure in the league, helping usher in the modern game that features superstars at quarterback who can fill the air with footballs, putting up incredible passing numbers.

In Manning’s second year in the league, just four quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards (Carolina’s Steve Beuerlein led with 4,436 passing yards.) In that time, 14 running backs rushed for more than 1,000 yards as the NFL was still stuck in the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mindset.

But Manning — along with Brett Favre — helped usher in the high-flying league that you see now. Whether they’ll say it or not, guys like Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr have Manning to thank. Without his incredible work ethic, football IQ and ability to beat teams in ways never seen before, Manning led the charge into today’s style of play.

During his 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning was easily the best quarterback in the league for a majority of his time there. He called the shots for one of the top offenses in the history of the game — but his second year with the Denver Broncos in 2013 was his best year ever in a remarkable career.

That year, Manning threw for a league-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns to lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Although the year didn’t end as hoped, it was still the best year ever put together by a quarterback, and how fitting it was that it was Manning who did it.

By announcing his retirement on Monday, Manning ended a career that is bound for Canton, Ohio, as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Thinking about Manning’s eventual acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame brought a ton of memories flooding back to me from watching Manning every Sunday.

Although I grew up around Pittsburgh, which is crazy about its Steelers, I found myself gravitating toward Manning and the Colts as a fan. That’s not to say I abandoned my Steeler fandom, but I had to watch Manning every weekend.

Sadly, I never owned his jersey, but I had posters on my bedroom wall of him as a Tennessee Volunteer and a Colt. He was easily my favorite player in the NFL, and one of my favorite athletes across all sports.

To this day, I try and read everything I can get my hands on about the great Peyton Manning.

There was just something about him; there’s this aura that surrounds him that keeps me coming back for more time and time again.

He’s the one of the greats

It’s very hard to put my finger on it, but I was drawn to the way he commanded the huddle, the way he was able to point out blitzes that were coming well before the defenders even showed blitz, and the way he was able to carve up defenses while throwing to guys like Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Marcus Pollard, Dallas Clark, Brandon Stokley and even a guy like Austin Collie for a short time.

The way the Colts played under Manning was my style of football. I always tried to emulate Manning when I’d play backyard football with my friends. He was the guy to be.

But there was more to Manning than just football. As a kid, I wanted to be able to connect with athletes away from the game — hold similar interests, watch the same shows, etc. Manning was that.

I remember watching him on “Saturday Night Live” one night with my mom — who likes Peyton almost as much as I do. I was nervous he would embarrass himself, but he crushed it and set off a nice run in commercials. To this day, the “Cut that meat!” commercial is one of my favorites. I still laugh hard when I pull it up on YouTube when I could use a good laugh. That’s what Manning did for me. He brought a ton of joy to my life as a kid from my pre-teen days, all the way up until now.

Whether it was screaming at the TV during Steelers-Colts games with my rooting interests completely torn or shedding a tear on the day he was released by the Colts, Manning has a special spot in a ton of my favorite sports memories.

In fact, during Super Bowl XLI, I started to come to the realization that I wanted to be a sports reporter.

During that game, I sat on the couch as a high school sophomore, tracking each play on a notepad trying to figuring out how I’d write my game story.

I did this because, at that time, I was the “sports guy” for my high school newspaper. While I wasn’t in an actual press box at the time, I felt like I really was. Everything was quiet around me despite my dad rooting hard for the Bears, whom he grew up rooting for, along with the Steelers.

After Manning won the Super Bowl that day, I felt a great sense of relief and pride watching him raise that trophy. That was my guy; he’d finally reached the pinnacle of the sport.

As years went by and Manning moved to the Broncos, I began to watch the Broncos nearly every Sunday. During the latter part of his career in Denver, this was right about the time where I was so close to reaching my goal of being a sportswriter.

From producing my own TV show in college to creating my own podcast and receiving a degree from Syracuse University, I always had an avenue to talk about Peyton. Now, I have this column to share my thoughts one last time.

As one door closes on Manning’s career, another door has opened for me and my career.

Through it all, Manning had a constant place in my life as a sports fan and writer.

I’ll miss the artistry that Manning displayed as a passer every Sunday, but I’m grateful to have those memories of him while growing up as a kid.

It was only fitting that Manning went out on top with another Super Bowl title just six months after I made my big move out here to start my professional life. In some ways, I think it was fate, even if he did knock the Steelers out of the playoffs back in January.

So, congratulations on an incredible career, Sheriff. And thank you … for everything.

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