Peyton’s Place: How One Person Can Elevate A Team

I’m sad to see it end, but so glad it was handled with such class. Last week, the incomparable Peyton Manning, after sitting out a year with injury, was released by the Indianapolis Colts. His exit press conference, with the team owner that was cutting him standing just feet away, should be the standard for all “good bye” events. Manning’s eyes watered… while he was thanking the equipment managers!

But Indy’s loss will be some other team’s gain because Peyton will play next year somewhere and whatever team gets him will immediately improve. Of that, I am absolutely sure. His new team will be better not because Manning has a rifle for an arm, but because he ELEVATES all those around him. The moment he signs, every other player on his new team will work harder because they know he will be relentless… and he is the most demanding on-field leader I’ve ever experienced.

 

Look at the last two seasons. Two years ago, with Peyton at quarterback, the Colts won 10 games and lost to the Jets in the playoffs. Last year, without Peyton, the Colts looked to be in complete disarray while winning only twice. Could one player make that great a difference in a team sport? Obviously yes, if he’s the leader that sets the standard by which everyone plays and prepares.

Tony Dungy was the Colts head coach when they teamed up to win the Super Bowl in 2007. A couple of years ago, Dungy told me his favorite story demonstrating Peyton’s commitment to winning. It was the spring of 2008, and Manning, the all-pro quarterback, would drive three hours one-way from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio so that he could teach Anthony Gonzalez, who was drafted in April of that year, the Colts offense. Manning made the trip on his own and by himself several times. Gonzalez was unable to make it to the Colts off season workouts because he wanted to graduate and Ohio State classes were still ongoing. But Manning knew that if his newest receiver was to be a weapon the next season, they would need time together. So the best player in the league spent several days on the road driving to practice with an untested rookie.

Coach Dungy’s point: Peyton Manning would do ANYTHING to improve those around him. Instead of basking in the glory of his previous accomplishments, or simply resting on his laurels, Manning was getting in his car and making a six-hour roundtrip to help his newest teammate become a fully-connected member of the Colts for the next season. No glory, no cameras, no extra money.

I have been in the Colts locker room with Peyton Manning and felt that energy and that intensity. I have seen how he raises the bar for those around him. While some people look at last year’s disastrous season and think how many weaknesses Manning must have been covering up, I looked at last year’s Colts and saw the same players and thought how much Manning must have lifted others by constantly holding them accountable. His teammates aspired to become what he was. They wanted to make sure they could look him in the eye and say they were as prepared as he.

At the press conference announcing that the Colts were releasing Manning, team owner Jim Irsay compared his decision to being up in an airplane that everyone knew had to land sometime. It was a great analogy because with a leader like Peyton Manning, who is always working to make himself and others so much better, some other team better buckle up because they are in for quite a flight.

Can you think of someone you’ve worked with who elevated all those around them because they always Chased Greatness?

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