- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

It’s as if Peyton Manning’s life was preordained.
Although Archie Manning was a Pro Bowl quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, he didn’t push his three boys to play football. When middle son Peyton showed a passion and a talent for the game, Archie used his influence.
Peyton was a quarterback at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans when his father, by then a Saints broadcaster, called New Orleans coach Jim Mora and asked if the kid could come out and watch the team’s informal workouts.
“One day I said, Get in there and call a play and throw the ball,’ ” Mora said. “And he did. I’m saying, This guy looks very good.’ You could always see the potential there.”
Potential but no burdensome expectations.
Manning said he never felt pressure growing up in New Orleans as a son of the leader of the ever-downtrodden Saints.
“I’ve never been out to prove anything or to escape a shadow,” Manning said. “I was always proud to be my father’s son. I always felt people knew who I was. It helped me make better decisions, think twice about the things that I did, who I spent time with, who I hung around with. It made me a better person.”
And a better quarterback. Manning established himself as one of the college game’s best passers at Tennessee. And when he finished his college career in 1998 as an All-American, Indianapolis and its new coach, Mora, were waiting with the first draft choice. Nationally, there was a great dispute between the more polished Manning and the potential of Washington State’s Ryan Leaf.
“In most people’s minds around here, Peyton was ahead the whole time, but it was such an important decision that we felt like we had do a very thorough evaluation,” Mora said. “We looked at an awful lot of film and talked to an awful lot of people. Peyton and Ryan are both physically gifted, but there are a lot of things involved in being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“Whoever we took was going to be the starter from the first day he stepped on the field. He was going to have to handle some real adversity … the media, the fans, the community, his peers. We never felt Ryan wasn’t going to be able to do these things, but we were sure that Peyton could.”
Smart choice. Leaf has played badly, been hurt and clashed with the media and the San Diego Chargers organization. Manning has been a model citizen and remarkably productive for a 23-year-old.
Manning already owns the NFL’s fifth-longest streak of games with a touchdown pass (25). He likely will finish this season with the most games, passes, completions and yards of any second-year quarterback. He will finish the season with more touchdown passes than any second-year quarterback except sure first-ballot Hall of Famer Dan Marino. And he is one of just two quarterbacks to start each of his team’s games in 1998 and 1999.
Manning isn’t just leading the AFC passing ratings; he is leading a Colts renaissance. Just 3-13 last year, Indianapolis is 11-2 and atop the AFC East heading into Sunday’s game against the visiting Washington Redskins.
“Peyton has made tremendous progress,” Mora said. “And with the work ethic he has and the way he prepares, you’re going to get better a lot faster than some guy who doesn’t work like he does.
“The sky’s the limit for this guy because of a lot of the intangibles he possesses. He’s smart. He works hard. He prepares well. He has good character. He has good leadership qualities. And he’s very competitive. He wants to be the best. And he works hard at it.”
Redskins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, whose father, Dick, coached Archie Manning during the only non-losing season of his 13-year career, said the younger Manning is mature beyond his years.
“It’s obvious that Peyton’s a student of the game,” Nolan said. “He’s very poised for a young guy. [You can tell that] he has been around the game all his life. When he has to pull the trigger and make quick decisions, he’s able to do that. Peyton has talent, but he uses his head a little more than most young guys.”
Manning spends most of his waking hours at the Colts practice facility. If he’s not on the field, he’s studying film.
“I’ve always had a love for the game, but now I’m being paid a lot of money to do this job,” Manning said. “It deserves my full effort, my full focus. It’s such a competitive business that everything you can do to get prepared, the better off you’re going to be on Sunday. People make a big deal out of the film [work], but I think I’m doing what any player should to get ready to play.”
That hard work has paid off this season. Manning has cut his interceptions in half and increased his completion percentage by more than five points and his quarterback rating by 21 points.
“All rookie quarterbacks are going to go through the same struggles the speed of the game, the different defenses but I was very driven to learn from my mistakes,” Manning said. “I’ve done a pretty good job of using what I learned last year to my advantage.”

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