Peyton Manning: a class act who really deserved this one
Monday, February 5, 2007 | 12:42 PM ET
Sorry it’s taken me three weeks to get another blog out. First came the flu, and then a heavy travel schedule. Won’t happen again.
Since I wasn’t covering the Super Bowl, I can admit that I had a rooting interest: for Peyton Manning.
NFL fans reading this will remember the famous Manning-Mike Vanderjagt blowup a few years ago. I was still at The Score when Vanderjagt joined us as an in-studio analyst leading up to the Super Bowl XXXVII, won by Tampa Bay over Oakland. The day after the game, Vanderjagt was asked about the Colts and Manning. (The Jets blew out Indy 41-0 in that season’s playoffs.) His response would become the NFL’s number one story for weeks.
“I'm not a real big Colts fan right now, unfortunately. I just don't see us getting better. All week before the Jets game I'm like, '(No.) 18, we're going to handle it, me and you we're going to win this game.' And he's like, 'Yeah, yeah, OK.' And I'm like, 'Peyton, show some enthusiasm, you're the quarterback and we need to win this game.' I just don't see it from him.”
A Canadian Press writer saw the interview, put it on the wires and the next thing we knew, ESPN was calling for copies. One week later, at The Pro Bowl, Manning was firing back during a sideline interview.
“Here we are, I'm out at my third Pro Bowl, I'm about to go in and throw a touchdown to Jerry Rice, we're honoring the Hall of Fame, and we're talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off. The sad thing is, he's a good kicker. He's a good kicker. But he's an idiot.”
(For the record, Vanderjagt was not drunk. I don’t think he drinks at all.)
When the Colts decided to keep Vanderjagt for the 2003 season, we made the decision to travel to Indy for the first day of camp. It was an obvious follow-up: Had the two men patched up their relationship, or was Manning ready to beat Vanderjagt with a metal pipe?
We weren’t friends or anything, but I’d had a good professional relationship with Vanderjagt. Of course, we knew each other from his CFL days. But the year before, the Colts suffered a painful playoff loss to Miami when Vanderjagt – who at that time was money – missed a field goal and gave the Dolphins new life.
Days after the game, he’d gone home to Oakville. I left him a message, saying when he was ready to do an interview, I’d like to get a chance to talk to him. He phoned me back within hours, said he was ready and gave me some terrific answers about how he felt and how he couldn’t wait for another big kick to make it up to his teammates.
It was one of my best, and as I always say, it’s not about the questions, it’s about the guest. I could have asked Vanderjagt his favourite colour and he’d have given a great answer that day.
Fast forward to the 2003 Colts minicamp. I called him the day before my arrival, and it was obvious that Vanderjagt’s attitude had changed. He said, “The media has done me wrong,” but eventually agreed to talk.
It never happened.
I don’t want to get into everything, but I was disappointed in Vanderjagt’s behaviour that day. (I want to make it very clear that I did not rip him in my report, just saying that he declined several requests for an interview. As annoyed as I was at him, I refused let it affect the on-air product.)
I also never experienced a team try to make my life as difficult as the Colts did that day. First, they told us not to come. Then, when we did come, they tried to tell us what happened between the two men “was no longer a story.” Right.
Players were only available for 45 minutes, and when I asked one of the media relations people to ask Vanderjagt to come out, I was told, “That’s not our job. If the player wants to come out, he will.”
I had never heard that one before, nor have I since.
The reaction of the local media was pretty funny, though. They were good guys, one of them saying to me, “Good thing you’re here. Now you can ask all the questions about the blowup.”
The players, though, were fantastic.
Chad Bratzke, a defensive end who set a team sack record with 12 in 1999, chatted with me for about 10 minutes, most of it about a trip to Ontario he was planning with his family that spring. Then, he answered all questions without complaint.
After I finished with him, I noticed an absolutely ripped figure – I’m talking muscles where I’d never seen them before – sitting alone on a chair in front of his locker, reading. When I asked then two-time Pro Bowler (it’s now four times) Edgerrin James for a comment, he said, “This story is not going to go away, is it?” then smiled. He was also excellent.
Then came Manning. I’d made a deal with the local media guys. I would let them ask all of their questions first, in case he got mad when I brought up Vanderjagt. That way, they would still be able to get everything else they needed. So, I waited patiently until everyone else was done.
Then I stepped up and asked. He gave a 90-second answer full of great stuff. I followed up. He came back with two more minutes of more great stuff. That was enough. I said thanks.
He said – and I’ll never forget this – “You bet. Have a safe trip home.”
Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about such a comment, but this stood out. We’d never met, never been introduced. It was clear the Colts media relations staff had warned him I was there and that I would be asking about the public spat. Manning had every excuse to be rude and mumble useless, cliché answers. Instead, he chose to step up, be honest and deal with it like a man.
He never admitted it publicly, but it really hurt him that the University of Tennessee won the national championship the season after he left. (The Volunteers never sniffed a title during his four years there.) Any observer with a clue knew about his NFL failures.
I gained a lot of respect for him that day in Indianapolis, and I’m happy he finally won the big one.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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