The Indianapolis Colts' bye week has arrived, which means it's time for a casual conversation-no X's and O's or New England Patriots talk allowed-with quarterback Peyton Manning. Not long ago, I sat down with No. 18 to talk about his place in the community, rather than his place behind center. Here is the first of a two-part interview.
Benner: Your community service work through the PeyBack Foundation is wellknown. It's now given more than $1 million to youth programs here, in Tennessee and in New Orleans. But an offshoot of that is Peyton's Pals, where every year you're taking 20 or so children from very difficult circumstances and involving them in yearround activities.
Manning: It's kind of the first real program that we've implemented ourselves. The Foundation is really geared to providing funds to other agencies that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk.
Peyton's Pals is something we started last year and we're just seeing the result, seeing how these kids turn the corner, through some of these first-time experiences like going to a Colts game, going to a Pacers game, going to St. Elmo's, going to a play, King's Island, a home for the elderly, and a Disney cruise.
Benner: It has to be gratifying ...
Manning: Very. These kids have been through things as bad as you can imagine and if we can put a smile on their face for a day or give them something to look forward to, then by gosh we're doing the right thing. I was blessed with two great parents who gave me support, and we're trying to help kids who don't necessarily have that same support system.
Benner: Reggie Miller has retired but in many ways the two of you are similar because you have been elite athletes who have made a point to give back to the community, especially kids. Both of you even shared national recognition in that regard. You've also shared the role-model spotlight, but with Reggie retired, this kind of becomes your town. Have you thought about that?
Manning: I have. And Reggie and I have spoken about that. He always carried that role and responsibility and took it very seriously. This is Indianapolis; it's not New York or Chicago, and people really identify with their favorite athletes here. Reggie was the name of the Pacers for 18 years and I've sort of been that with the Colts. It is something you take seriously. Reggie did it the right way in the same city for 18 years.
I've always admired athletes-especially quarterbacks-who play for the same team for the majority of their careers. It doesn't happen very much. Marino with the Dolphins, Elway with the Broncos, Aikman with the Cowboys. That's what I want to do. I live here in the city. My foundation's based out of here. I built a home here.
It all kind of goes back to my father (Archie). He was drafted by New Orleans, lived there in the off season, still lives there today. People ask where I'm going to live when I'm finished playing. This is my home. This is where I live, where I work, and I enjoy everything about it.
Benner: So you intend to be a one-franchise guy?
Manning: That's my goal. There's something to finishing what you started. The time I've been here, obviously, we haven't accomplished our ultimate goal, although we're close and I believe that we will. But we've changed a lot in the seven years I've been here. We've changed from the team that every other team on the schedule circled and put 'W' next to it. Now they're saying, "Uh-oh; we've got to go to Indianapolis and put up with that offense and Dwight Freeney in that facility with that crowd noise."
We've worked hard to change that and become a contender when the schedule comes out in April. I mean, three "Monday Night Football" games, two at home. Those are things I hope the city's excited about and we take pride in. Obviously, we want to win the Super Bowl and that's the ultimate goal, but I've been proud to be part of that turnaround.
Benner: You've set such high expectations for yourself but, of course, that's what you want.
Manning: That's why you play. That's why you starting working out the last week in March, why you watch film every morning at 7:15, figuring out what you can do to get better, to help your team win more games and hopefully get to the Super Bowl.
Next week, Manning talks about the new stadium, the responsibility that goes with a big contract, and interaction with fans.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.