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One Sunday evening in mid-November, Mike came home from a hockey game and was amused at what he found.
I was sitting on the couch, watching Sunday Night Football. I wasn’t watching the Colts. In fact, I think it might have been the Patriots-Jets game. “You’re just sitting there, watching the game? On purpose?”
You see, when Mike and I married nearly 15 years ago, neither of us would’ve ever imagined this scenario. I wasn’t raised in a family that loved sports. We barely played sports (not well, anyway) and watching sports was a rare occasion. So the idea that one day I would sit down and watch a game by myself, because I was actually interested in the game? Inconceivable.
And then Peyton Manning came along. We had just moved to Tennessee when Peyton was a senior at University of Tennessee. I don’t know exactly what it was that made me pay attention. Maybe it was that God-awful Volunteer orange. Maybe I was bored one Saturday. Maybe I felt silly for being one of the only people in Nashville that didn’t know who he was. But I uncharacteristically took the time to watch him play, and something clicked. I liked him.
If I liked him as a Volunteer, I grew to love him as an Indianapolis Colt. It was all new to me. I never had a team to root for, I never cared. But I liked this dorky white guy, with his goofy mannerisms at the line of scrimmage. God help me, I actually learned what line of scrimmage meant. Little by little, I started to watch games. A quarter here, a half there. I sat on the couch with Mike and asked questions.
As seasons passed I grew more and more enamored with Peyton, possibly bordering on the obsessed. But at the same time, I began to fall in love with the game. Simply caring about a quarterback made me care about the Colts. The next thing I knew, I had fallen in love with football.
I love Peyton because he understands how Hoosiers tick. You show up, you work hard, you don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You don’t brag or trash-talk. You do things the right way, the quiet way and believe that one day you’ll be respected for it. That’s the Midwestern way. I love Peyton because he can laugh at himself. I love Peyton because he’s a perfectionist. I love Peyton because he orchestrated some of the most thrilling football I’ve ever seen. I love Peyton because he led us to a Super Bowl and gave us humble Hoosiers a chance to call ourselves champions. I love Peyton for all the good he does in our community. But most of all, I love Peyton because he turned me into a fan of the game.
And because I’m a fan, I’ve met some of the most interesting people. I’ve nearly peed my pregnant pants jumping and screaming in an AFC Championship game. I’ve learned to love sports talk radio almost as much as NPR. But most importantly, because I’m a fan, I’ve grown closer to my husband. I love the look he gets on his face when I know a random fact or stat that amazes him. I love that we always have something to talk about. And I love that on any given Sunday in football season I have someone to snuggle with while we watch a game.
It hurts to say goodbye to Peyton Manning as our quarterback. It won’t ever be the same here without him, and for that I’m simply heartbroken. Peyton will most likely play in another uniform next year. In the somewhat near future he’ll retire. But thanks to him, I’ll be able to spend the next few decades of football season enjoying the stories that have yet to be told, the thrillers that have yet to be played.
Thanks for fourteen amazing years, Peyton.