Peyton Manning. Photograph by Jeffrey Beall

Peyton Manning. Photograph by Jeffrey Beall

This past weekend, I found myself wondering:  What Would Peyton Manning Do?

The question was actually posed by A., the administrator and editor of this blog.  We were out to lunch, and I was explaining that I was torn between visiting my family for Christmas (and winding up hopelessly behind in my work) or foregoing the visit to fulfill my deadlines. Somehow we got on the subject of how I consider myself to be the Peyton Manning of women, not because I’m so great but because I’m an intense person who believes in Alexandrian leadership (that is, leading from the front) and in what Louis Pasteur said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

So WWPMD? To answer that question I read the cover story of the Dec. 23 issue of Sports Illustrated, which has proclaimed Peyton Manning “Sportsman of the Year.” (Talk about fortuitous: Sunday, the Denver Broncos won the AFC West as Manning broke Tom Brady’s record for most touchdowns in a season, 50.)

The article contains things I knew and many I didn’t. Glamorous and commanding, Peyton Manning is the middle son of Archie Manning, the former New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, and his wife, Olivia, who was a homecoming queen. The Mannings are gracious Southerners, and Peyton – named for an uncle who would never have children but whose namesakes are numerous thanks to his famous nephew – was raised to study hard, play hard and think of others, as was older brother Cooper, whose gridiron dreams were cut short by spinal stenosis, and baby bro Eli, the New York Giants’ QB.

Peyton starred at the University of Tennessee. He was the No. 1 draft pick and the longtime face of the Indianapolis Colts. He married Ashley, who supports his work ethic and civic-mindedness. They have twins.

Peyton Manning is the kind of person who writes people notes on beautiful stationery with his name embossed atop it. I’m not a football expert – though that hasn’t stopped me from setting the second novel in “The Games Men Play” series in the world of the NFL – but to me as a cultural writer, his triumphant appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in 2007, after he and the Colts won the Super Bowl, crystallized the key to his excellence, a kind of preparation that makes everything organic. Indeed, he seemed to have his part down cold along with everyone else’s. He is in short a golden boy.

But even golden boys have their dreams tarnished. His postseason has not been as successful as that of brother Eli, who’s not as great a quarterback. He had spinal fusion surgery in 2011, which threatened his career. He lost his job with the Colts, a job he thought he would have forever (though not his emotional and charitable ties to Indianapolis.) And while he has found brilliant new life as the Denver Broncos’ QB, he is 37 years old. Seeing him, you think of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”: “Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are.”

What Peyton Manning is is the kind of man who has a commitment and meets it beautifully without your having to mention it twice.

So WWPMD? He would do the right thing. He would do his job.

And that’s what I’m going to do.


For more Mannings, see WAG’s November cover story on Eli Manning at  And check out the first chapter of my NFL novel, “In This Place You Hold Me.”