Do you have any heroes or role models? People from whom you draw inspiration? It could be a writer, an athlete, an artist, a family member, a teacher. I have lots of heroes and most of them are writers or other artistic people, like Edgar Allan Poe or J.K. Rowling or my mom (who is a writer). I don’t think anyone who even sort of knows me would be too surprised to hear that list of heroes. However, I also look up to a few athletes, which may surprise anyone other than my close friends and family. As a golfer, of course, I respect and admire people like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, and guys who have been around a little longer, like Phil Mickelson, but my biggest role model and hero is Peyton Manning.
For as long as I can remember, he has been loved and revered in my house. I was only 3 years old when he was drafted by the Colts in 1998, so I literally mean for as long as I can remember. I’ve only ever gone to two professional football games, the first was the Packers versus the Colts at Lambeau Field in 2008 and the second was the Colts versus the Titans in 2009 at Lucas Oil Stadium. However, I feel like I’ve lived and died with Peyton every time he stepped onto the field, especially when he played Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
There was a time when I was in high school that I knew every single Colts' stat and each player. I was borderline obsessive, and by borderline, I mean completely and totally. After Peyton first got hurt, though, my attitude towards football changed. It was so hard to watch the Colts struggle in the 2011 season when he was out. It was even harder knowing that the Colts would most likely let Peyton go.
In 2012, when the Colts finally did let him go, I was devastated. As silly as it sounds, I was literally filled with a soul-crushing sadness. Ever since then, I have been extremely angry with the Colts and the team’s owner, Jim Irsay. I’ve never liked Andrew Luck, Peyton’s replacement. I didn’t and don’t need Luck; I need Peyton.
Starting with the 2012 season, I lived and died with Peyton, the Bronco. I also grew to love and respect the rest of the Denver Broncos’ team. I wanted nothing but the best for Peyton.
I wanted him to have a perfect record. I wanted him to break every record. I wanted him to kill Tom Brady-- I mean beat Tom Brady (I will begrudgingly admit that Brady is really good and also a huge part of my childhood, though). I wanted him to win another Super Bowl. I wanted him to never get old and retire from football.
As anyone who does not live under a rock knows, Peyton did, indeed, retire last week. I knew it was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear the news. I watched the press conference where he announced his retirement at 2 a.m. in my aunt’s guest bedroom when I was alone and free to cry, laugh, and remember everything Peyton has done and everything he has meant to me during his 18 years as a professional football player. I thought back to when I was 4 or 5 years old running around my yard in my Colts outfit talking about Peyton Mayonnaise. I couldn’t say "Manning" for some reason. I thought of the countless days I spent at my grandparents’ house watching Peyton play. I thought of Peyton’s first Super Bowl win and how my stomach was in knots while I watched it, how my grandpa couldn’t even watch half of the game because he was so nervous and determined that the Colts would somehow lose it, and how we kept calling my dad who was watching the game from Florida while on a business trip. I thought of Peyton and Tom and how the NFL will never again see a rivalry like theirs. I thought of Peyton’s good sportsmanship, hard work, tenacity, and generosity. I thought of his time as a Bronco, the heartbreaking losses and awe-inspiring wins. But most of all, I thought of what a legend he is, what a legend he will always be, and how much I wanted to thank him for always being there for me and inspiring me to be the best I can be.