How Peyton Manning Changed My Life

I have never been a football fan. In fact, when a famous Denver Bronco player came into our office to have his children tested, I had no idea who he was. I only knew that he was big. He seemed to take up the entire room. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to duck to get in the front door. 
Of course, there was one moment in my life when I was excited about football—in particular, the Broncos. It was 1997, the night of the Super Bowl. I had been invited to participate as a member of the Advisory Panel for the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Fifth Edition. This was quite an honor and I was nervous—I mean nervous to the point of endless nightmares. (You know those nightmares that go on for hours in which you are lost, everyone has left without you, you’re naked, and the toilet is on the balcony…) I felt totally outclassed by the other panel members. But something amazing happened. I walked into the Wyndham Hotel in Chicago and heard loud shouting coming from the bar. I realized that they were all cheering for the Broncos. I had no idea why. All evening long, throughout the dinner, guys were sneaking out to watch the game on the monitors in the hall. And they were all Bronco fans. Finally, someone clued me in that the Broncos were playing Chicago’s archrival, the Green Bay Packers. It wasn’t so much that they were for the Broncos as they were vehemently against the Packers. When John Elway won, a thrilling cheer rang throughout the hotel. It was like being in Denver! And since I was the only member of the panel from Denver, somehow Elway’s victory made me a hero. I think they would have carried me around on their shoulders if they could have! All my Imposter Syndrome fears melted and I felt at ease for the entire meeting. Thank you, John Elway.
That was a long time ago, and it didn’t move me enough to get me interested in football. While the games were on TV for all the avid fans in my family, I would squirrel myself away in my study to get some work done on the computer. I don’t remember exactly when it happened or why—maybe I was fixing myself something to eat in the kitchen and happened to get a glimpse at Peyton Manning throwing a football. I was immediately smitten. Mesmerized, I walked into the room and kept watching. I haven’t stopped.
I love a pro. Manning’s intensity of focus drew me into a game I enjoyed disliking for over 70 years. I had no idea what was actually going on in the game. But watching Manning throw a football was catnip. Soon I found myself watching all the Bronco games, with my family laughing in disbelief. Then I donned a Bronco T-shirt and blue pants with two white stripes down the sides. Then I purchased Bronco socks. Two years ago, we decided to have my birthday party the same day as the Super Bowl. Bad mistake. The Seahawks murdered us. Saddest birthday party of my life. 
As a birthday present, our son bought me a Peyton Manning Super Bowl XLVIII shirt, which I wore proudly throughout the game. I treasured the shirt, despite how badly we lost the game. It was a moment of revelation. I realized that my feelings about Peyton Manning were not affected in the slightest by whether we won or lost. It wasn’t about winning. It was about appreciation of a pro, much the same way I appreciate fine china or an enchanting piece of music or a brilliant play or an exquisite sunset. Watching the way Manning threw a football was and is an aesthetic experience for me. 
Today, for the playoffs, I wore my Bronco T-shirt, my Peyton Manning Super Bowl shirt over it, and, when I got cold, I pulled on my “Omaha, Omaha” hoodie that Kimmy Boham bought for me in Omaha—three layers of Broncomania.  If anyone had told me three years ago that I would be watching every Bronco game or that I would be donning Bronco apparel, I would have said that was insane. Never gonna happen.
I’m jazzed that Peyton Manning got to play again these last few games.  It wasn’t the same for me when Peyton got injured and Brock Osweiler had to replace him. I didn’t know if Peyton would ever get to play again. And I am ecstatic that the Broncos get to go to the fiftieth anniversary of the Super Bowl. I hope they win. It would be a fitting climax to Peyton’s illustrious career, and would justify John Elway’s confidence in him as General Manager. It would be a well-deserved honor for them both, as well as for their excellent team. But whether the Broncos win or lose, Peyton Manning will always hold a very special place in my heart as the only person who was able to show me the beauty of football.