Peyton Manning is one of my idols. I realize that puts me on the bandwagon with about a million people. But over the summer, I had the opportunity to meet him.
No sweat. Or so I thought.
We were invited for an informal scholarship award ceremony inside the Peyton Manning Locker Complex in Neyland Stadium . (And after you finish this, you can read about that at here if you want to.) About 5 minutes before the event started, I realized I had left my camera back in the car. At UT every street is a hill, and parking is always sparse and far away. So I walked — well, trotted — 79 blocks back to the car and got the camera. On my way back, I had worked myself into a tizzy thinking the thing was probably already over, and His Manning-ness was back on a plane to Denver. So I turned that trot into a full-on sprint.
I had on an orange shirt; this is pertinent because orange is the color that hates moisture the most. Sweat sends orange into a fiery rage. When I got back, I was afraid to look down for fear that I was dripping orange sweat like a giant melting Creamsicle. Thank God I only bleed orange.
Peyton entered the room like any normal person would — shaking hands and making small talk from person to person. When he got to me, I wanted so desperately to be cool. But instead, I stood this awkward distance of probably 42 inches away from him. To reach his hand I had to contort into this awkward bow, like I was welcoming him to a traditional tea ceremony, or something.
It gets worse.
When he said, “Hi, I’m Peyton Manning,” I responded:
“It’s a please-ure to meet you.”
“Please-ure” rhymes with seizure, which is what I thought I was going to have in that one nano-second when the language that I have been speaking pretty dang effortlessly for nearly 50 years completely left my brain. Goo-goo, gah-gah, blah-blah, blah. Each of my teeth was suddenly wearing a little sock.
I’m a little surprised I didn’t tack on “wouldn’t want to be ya” just for good measure.
Thank God he didn’t ask me my name.
Instead I think he gave me a look like he does when he misses on 3rd and 8. You know: smirking, ripping the chin strap, slightly shaking his head, looking disgustedly at the Jumbo-tron replay, devising how to keep it from happening again.
Shortly, though, I was able to string together a few short sentences. Call it adjusting to the speed of the game, as rookie football players say. And after a few minutes, he escorted our group out onto Shields-Watkins field, and I saw him look up at the 100,000 seats. I watched him take it all in. I truly think he was back in orange for a moment, with Rocky Top blaring and the beaten-down opponent slumping back to the visitors’ locker room.
He truly seemed glad to be there — humbled, and maybe even a little awestruck at the whole spectacle.
Maybe it was a please-ure for him to be back. I hope so.