INDIANAPOLIS – The record breaking piece 17 years ago was like something drawn in the dirt by children. But it has continued to establish itself Peyton Manning as the NFL’s greatest quarterback on the line of scrimmage.
Manning secretly told the recipient Brandon Stokley he would give him the “smash symbol” – a universal call that players in the NFL know that signals that the slot receiver is driving a corner route and the external receiver is driving a hitch route – if the Chargers give him one certain look at the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
Manning studied the line and the Chargers glanced at him. He turned left to Stokley, who was in the slot, opened one hand, clenched the other, and began pounding on it as if he wanted Stokley and Reggie Waynethat was lined up wide to play the “Smash” piece. Stokley looked at Manning and nodded in agreement.
Wayne ran briefly, but Stokley was doing something different, something none of the other nine offensive players on the field knew was coming.
He started in the corner but then broke down a route in the middle, where he was 49.
“The Chargers fell for it,” said Stokley. “That showed Peyton’s next level thinking. The game was kind of designed in the dirt, nothing we discussed before. Peyton was the inventor who took the game to the next level of scrimmage. The precedents were set by him. and you see so many quarterbacks in the league taking the same approach to the line of scrimmage. Peyton is responsible for 99.9% of that. “
Manning and his 71,940 yards, 539 touchdown passes, and two Super Bowl titles shape the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, which launches on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). His speech will likely be as detailed as his game prep over his 17 year career. Don’t be surprised if Manning drops a few “Omaha, Omaha” or “Apple, Apple” references during his speech to make everyone laugh at some of his most memorable audible calls.
And as funny as some of Manning’s calls to the Line of the Scrimmage were, there was an art, or even a science, the quarterback used.
“Balboa, Balboa” meant the piece would go left because fictional boxer Rocky Balboa was left-handed.
“Ice, ice” meant patience, because there was nothing in it when Manning analyzed the defense.
“Any time a defense thought they found out Peyton, they quickly learned they didn’t,” Stokley said. “The words would often change from week to week because the teams could use the televised copy and record what he said. Sometimes he used the same word but the game was different. Everything was done with precision.”
“Peyton changed the way a quarterback is played in football everywhere. Because he was in control of everything when it came to scrimmage,” said former Colts CEO Bill Polian, who voted Manning No. 1 in 1998, “Seeing Children.” do that anywhere in college they do. It’s done to great effect in the NFL. And that’s his legacy, the fact that he could control the game through a pre-snap look, game selection, post – having the execution done all by himself with the help of the game plan from the coaches – it was a huge step forward for the position. “
Not just seeing the defensive formation, taking the snapshot and throwing the ball was the reason Manning was able to dissect the defense on a regular basis.
Intellect. Football instinct. And it didn’t hurt that Manning’s father Archie also played in the NFL.
Polian noticed months before the Colts voted Manning over Washington state quarterback Ryan Leaf with the first choice.
Manning entered his meeting with the Colts during the 1998 Combine with a yellow notepad in hand. The notepad wasn’t on display, it held a series of questions for Polian and his staff.
The roles have been reversed. Manning wanted to make sure the Colts were the kind of organization he wanted to play for.
“He asked a series of questions about the offense, the team, the offensive philosophy etc and then suddenly – you know you only have 20 minutes in this interview and they blow a horn when it’s over.” with – and the horn blew and we looked at each other, and man, we didn’t ask any questions, he asked them all, ”said Polian. “… He left the room and we said, ‘Holy mackerel, he interviewed us, not the other way around.'”
“Demanding” is a word often associated with Manning by those who have coached him or played with him during his career.
Manning worked hard so he asked everyone else to do the same. It didn’t matter if it was the last player in the squad, the coaching staff, the ball boys, even the caretaker on the team’s facility.
“He redefined the culture of an organization,” said Jeff Saturday, a former Colts Center and current ESPN analyst. “In that role as QB he was really a coach on the field and in the building. You know the way he acted, staying in Indy in the off-season, I mean really being part of the team. ” and challenging at all levels, be it management, coaching staff, other players. For me, those things were what really separated him. “
Former Colts offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen added, “It wasn’t confrontational, it wasn’t disrespectful, but you only came to meetings out of respect. You didn’t go into a meeting unprepared and just think, ‘Hey,’ I’ll give it wings, I had no chance to prepare. ‘
“You should be better prepared, better get your information right, and present it better.”
Manning’s game preparation didn’t start the week or two before the opponent’s encounter. Teams often have 4-6 games of their opponent in the system for review. Manning, who was his normal meticulous self, wasn’t happy with these games. He often asked to have 10 games available to break up.
But here’s the catch.
Manning would break down five of these games himself to help prepare. He would then meet with his position coach or offensive coordinator to discuss the trends he was seeing outside of defense. Manning wanted to make sure he was ready for whatever look a defense might throw at him.
“He’s very unusual,” said former Colts trainer Jim Caldwell. “You will never find anyone in the history of the game who works like him. Nobody. I’ve been around a long time and have seen a lot of hard workers, coaches and players for him.”
Ryan actually thought there was a time when it felt like he found Manning out. In the days leading up to the 2006 playoff game against the Colts, Ryan, then the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, said linebacker Ray Lewis and security Ed Reed they would win if they could keep Manning and his offensive out of the end zone.
The Ravens didn’t give up a touchdown and intercepted Manning twice. But they didn’t win the game either. Manning led the Colts into the Baltimore area enough times to get five Adam Vinatier Field goals to win the game.
So all the countless hours of sleepless Ryan slept at the facility, working out plans that he thought would work, failed more than once, as Manning found just enough ways to decipher what the ravens – and many, did other defenses – were do.
“I’ve gotten his ass kicked so many times,” said Ryan. “It was incredibly believable. Like looking at myself you know I thought I was the best. You know what I mean, I did it one time by him … which is funny when you look at my overall record, when you turn off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, mine would be ridiculous. My record would be incredible. But to face these two cats – it was unreal. “
Colts owner Jim Irsay often referred to the Manning crime as putting up Star Wars-like numbers. The Colts finished in the top 5 of the league in yards and points per game for nine of Manning’s 13 seasons. The Broncos, which Manning joined and retired with in 2012, did so in three of his four seasons with the organization.
“When you’re in a thunderstorm and you’re on an airplane, you want a pilot like that,” said Irsay. “If you fight too much in wartime or something, you want a leader like that. I mean, this guy knew what he was doing on quarterbacks.
“I mean, they were watching Peyton and they had never seen anything like it. I mean, there’s no one to compare this to – what they did on the line of scrimmage and how noticeable it was. That’s why there is only one Peyton Manning in 100 years. “