NEW ORLEANS — 13News Sports Director Dave Calabro secured an exclusive interview with Peyton Manning. The former Colts quarterback will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Sunday. This is the second of a three part series of interviews. In Part I, Peyton tours his high school with Dave and talks about the start of his athletic career. In Part III, Peyton talks about his family and shares what's next for him. Calabro also shared his memories of covering Peyton in a special column.
I was standing inside the weight room at Isidore Newsman School in New Orleans waiting for the man of the hour to arrive. The doors opened and in walks number 18.
"Hey Dave, how are you doing, pal?" Peyton Manning asks me. We exchange hellos, sit down and then get to business.
Sunday evening, the former Colts quarterback will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His father Archie Manning will be the one presenting him in Canton. When he enters the hall, he will be representing the Indianapolis Colts as well as the Denver Broncos and the University of Tennessee.
I asked Peyton what it means to represent the Colts in the hall of fame.
"It's a big deal," Peyton told me. "My gratitude to Jim Irsay and the Colts organization is off the charts. They drafted me in 1998, and everything Jim told me he was going to do when I met with him at the Surf Club in Miami..."
Peyton then corrects himself and said it might have been a different place. He's never one to let a detail slip through the cracks. What did stick with him in that meeting 24 years ago was the attitude of Colts owner Jim Irsay.
"I could tell how committed Jim was making Indianapolis a winner," Manning recalled.
As the records books show, Irsay did exactly that. The Colts teams with Peyton under center won 141 regular season games, nine playoff games and, of course, Super Bowl XLI.
The path to that on-field success started immediately after being drafted. Peyton flew from the draft in New York to Indianapolis and got the playbook from coaches Tom Moore and Bruce Arians.
"I was back in Indianapolis three days later," Manning recalled. "They had me holed up at a Signature Inn on 38th Street. I wasn't really supposed be in town yet. Technically maybe a violation of the rules."
"Going big, Peyton! Going big!" I told him.
"But I wanted to learn the offense, and they said, 'Come on in here,'" Peyton said. "I think of that rookie year. You remember, Dave. It was a struggle, it was an adjustment period and all of sudden, things picked up a bit. As Will Ferrell would say in 'Anchorman,' that thing escalated a little bit. We went from 3-13 to 13-3 fast. All of the sudden, everybody is like, 'Indianapolis is for real!'"
But the regular season success didn't immediately turn into post-season victories.
"Having these great seasons, getting so close and being disappointed in the end, but we just kind of kept going, we never stopped," Peyton recalled. "Jim never broke up the band and said, 'Hey, we gotta change everything.' We just sort of stayed the course. We were talking about 2006 earlier — that was a special group."
This weekend in Canton, Manning will be back together with many of the teammates and coaches that worked with Peyton to turn around the Indianapolis Colts franchise.
"To be reunited with Marvin, Tony, Bill, Marshal Faulk, to be going in on the same weekend as Edgerrin James," Peyton said. "He's maybe my favorite teammate of all time. It's really cool."
And Peyton thinks he shouldn't be the last player from his Indianapolis teams that should be making the trip to Canton.
"There's room for more Colts, let's go down the list," Peyton said.
"Reggie Wayne needs to be in there," I declared.
"Yep, there's room! But I am very proud to represent the Colts and the horseshoe in Canton," Peyton told me.
"I am sure you have been reminiscing a lot, as I have been been," I said to Peyton. "I've been watching you since you walked in the door in '98. What flashes through your mind when you look back on the start of this journey with Indianapolis and the 14-year ride you had?"
"I think about more about the people," Peyton stated. "Obviously, I certainly think about certain moments, but I remember those moments because of the people I was with, who was on that team and who were my coaches."
Peyton had a record-setting career in Indianapolis, but an injury eventually led to his divorce from the Colts after 14 years.
"You mentioned 2011 and the neck injury and everything that happened. Did you think, 'Wow, it can't end this way?'" I asked.
"My goals were, I think like what any NFL player should have as a goal, is to play your entire career with the team that drafted you. It doesn't happen much anymore. Contracts have changed, but I was fascinated by Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins, Aikman-Cowboys, Elway-Broncos, so that's I wanted to do."
"I had this unbelievable string of good health ever since I played here at Newman School and never had to miss a game for an injury ever," Peyton said. "Then, all of the sudden in 2011, I have not one, two, but four neck surgeries trying to kinda fix something that just couldn't quite get it fixed."
So, Manning was forced to watch the season opener against the Texans from a hospital bed in California as Kerry Collins was under center for his team.
"It was an emotional time," recalled Peyton. "This is real. I am not out there, and I'm not sure when I can get back out there, and the season became more of a struggle realizing that. The Colts, probably rightfully so, need to kind of think about the future and kind of where they are going. You get the first pick in the draft. Andrew Luck is available, so Jim and I communicated about it. It was one of those situations where it was just going to be tough either way."
Even though Peyton did not finish his career with the Colts, his legacy in Indianapolis lived on and still shapes the city today.
"Indianapolis is a football town now, and that wasn't really the case when I came there," Manning declared.
"I was going to say, you are greatly responsible for that," I told Peyton. "Do you realize the impact you had on my city, our city, what you did for Indianapolis?"
"There were a lot of people that were a part of that, but that's the kind of town you want to play in," Peyton said. "You want to play where they are talking about the draft or they are talking about who we are getting in free agency. You don't want them just talking about it in September. 'Hey, you want to go to the game?' 'Yeah, maybe not.' I've been to a lot of stadiums. I've never seen more jerseys worn at a stadium than Lucas Oil Stadium."