SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — He can’t really disguise the coverage, much as Peyton Manning tries.
He’s met with the media twice in two days here in San Francisco — well, near San Francisco, as this is also the Super Bowl of bus rides — and both times you can see what’s in there. Nostalgia is creeping in like water into a Louisiana basement, seeping through the cracks.
Manning will almost certainly leave football after this week. He won’t say it out loud, but you can tell. Go ahead, ask him about the two weeks prior to the game, and the danger of over-preparing. Let him talk a bit, watch it go.
“You certainly have more time to prepare than you normally would,” he says, before wandering a bit, and then saying it helped because it gave him more time to arrange tickets.
“I’ve got some high school buddies, some college buddies coming to the game that have been to every other Super Bowl that I’ve played in. These are guys that I’ve known since I was a little kid, and have special friendships and relationships with, so it’s fun when you call them and say, ‘Hey, got a couple seats for you, do you want to go?’ So I think it’s good to have extra days to be able to take care of that and then get into your preparation.”
Well, they’ve been to every other Super Bowl, so that’s not new. Who are they, Peyton?
“Well, they . . . they preferred that I kept them nameless, you know, they didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves in Super Bowl week,” Manning said Tuesday. “But like I said, I appreciate the friendships that I have with those high school and college guys.
“And I talked to coach (Phil) Fulmer this week, my college coach, and talked to my high school coach in New Orleans, Tony Reginelli, and I think when you do play in a game like this it’s hard not to think about coaches that have had an impact on you and helped you get in this position. I talked to Jim Caldwell, Tony Dungy, Jim Mora, John Fox.
“So I’m thankful and grateful for all the coaches I’ve played for, and I wouldn’t be in this position today had I not learned something from all the different coaches that I’ve had.”
See that? It’s bubbling up, even as he is capable of holding the facade. It’s been reported that Manning is calling close friends to tell them this Super Bowl is his last, and maybe his old coaches qualify. He already told Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, after the AFC championship game, that it was probably his last rodeo. He’s looking around, taking it all in, maybe taking a picture or two. It happens to the best of ’em.
Super Bowls are always about quarterbacks, but this one more than most. Carolina’s Cam Newton is the next new now thing, and he is being elevated to another level during this week, and when you see him in person he looks more like a comic book character than almost any other professional athlete I’ve ever seen — cartoon biceps, cartoon forearms, cartoon everything. He looks drawn, and it’s like they drew him too big for the page. It’s like he glows.
Manning, meanwhile, looms larger than life even though he’s never been smaller, as a player.
There are still new things to discover — The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Clark, a most interesting NFL reporter, revealed this week that Manning makes teammates watch 1980s movies so that they can get his jokes, because he quotes them all the time. The list of films is a feel-good comfy couch of nostalgia: Stripes, Bull Durham, Top Gun, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Caddyshack, Mr. Mom.
Manning, meanwhile, is like that for most people — a fond memory, a marker for times in your life. The bad times, from his college harassment settlement to the HGH allegations, are being buried under the sheer weight of his history. Manning reminisced about his signing day in high school on Tuesday — about how there was him and a female student who was signing somewhere to play college volleyball, and how he wore khakis and a plaid long-sleeved shirt and took off his letterman jacket, probably.
Manning is legendary for trying to control things, from learning teammates’s backgrounds to tanking concussion baseline tests to studying film forever. He doesn’t like the word control to describe this behaviour — he calls it preparation, the cerebral side of the game, searching for advantages. He needs it now more than ever; his arm is worn to the bone, and he still hasn’t mastered the first fully new offence he’s been handed in his 18-year career. There’s some resentment about that last bit.
He was asked about Newton, another No. 1 pick, and Manning talked about how it’s not really a reward so much as a responsibility. After talking about Newton, Manning veered back to himself, looking back.
“I tried my best to hold up my end of the agreement when I was drafted number one by the Colts. Because you want to be that player for the team that drafts you, you want then to be happy with their choices.”
It’s like he can feel history, pressing down on his neck, on his chest, on him. It’s coming Sunday, when the rodeo ends.