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NFL Legend Peyton Manning: “Pressure is something you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing”

My dad gave me a lot of quotes as a kid. I remember one that applied to a lot of things. There’s a great Pittsburgh Steelers coach named Chuck Noll who once said, “Pressure is something you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing.” I think that applied to me at the time.


By Yitzi Weiner

My dad gave me a lot of quotes as a kid. I remember one that applied to a lot of things. There’s a great Pittsburgh Steelers coach named Chuck Noll who once said, “Pressure is something you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing.” I think that applied to me at the time. I was 12–14 years old in school. We all know that feeling when you get in to take a test and you haven’t studied for it. You get nervous. You start sweating. And this certainly applies to sports, business, life, whatever it is. Knowing it’s worth it to prepare is how this quote has been relevant in my life. To prepare, to do your homework, whether you’re studying for a test, big job interview, preparing to play football games and studying film, it’s worth it to do the little things in preparation. This way, you can go out there and thrive in that moment instead of being overwhelmed. You really shouldn’t feel pressure if you’ve done everything to prepare yourself for that role. It’s okay to get nervous. In fact. I think it’s good. It means it matters to you, but there’s a difference between getting nervous and feeling pressure, and I thought that was a good quote.


As a part of my series about sports stars who are making a social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Two-Time Super Bowl-Winning Quarterback & Five-Time NFL MVP, Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only five-time Most Valuable Player and a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, has earned his place among the greatest quarterbacks in league history as one of the leaders in nearly every statistical passing category and the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. Manning entered the NFL in 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts as the first overall draft pick. When he retired from football in 2016, Manning held numerous records including the most career touchdown passes in league history, first all-time in completions and passing yards and more playoff appearances and 300-yard passing games than any other player. Named a first-team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press on seven occasions, Manning led the Colts to a 29–17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI and the Broncos to a 24–10 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. In 2017, the Colts honored Manning by retiring his number 18 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Later this Spring, he will be inducted into the Louisiana and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fames. Manning has also received numerous awards for his philanthropic work off the field and was honored as the recipient of the Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2005, the Bart Starr Award in 2015, and the Lincoln Medal in 2017.

Manning is a longtime supporter of The Pat Summit Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. In 2012, Manning joined The Pat Summit Foundation Advisory Board and co-chairs several fundraising events throughout the year. He also sits on the American Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet — lending a hand during disaster relief. He and his wife, Ashley, established the PeyBack Foundation in 1999 to promote the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk. The PeyBack Foundation has provided more than $14 million of impact to disadvantaged youth through its grants and programs since its inception. Manning is a champion for the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent (Indiana); serving as an ambassador, advocate and fundraiser. Peyton and Ashley co-chair the signature fundraising event for the hospital each spring, which raises money to expand and enhance departments and services offered. A sought-after speaker on the corporate lecture circuit, Manning also hosts and writes the NFL version of Detail on ESPN+ and is filming Peyton’s Places set to air this fall on ESPN+ to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the NFL, all while continuing his iconic commercials and various business partnerships. He and Ashley have twins — a boy and a girl, Marshall Williams and Mosley Thompson and currently reside in Denver, Colorado.


Thank you so much for joining us Peyton! Can you share a personal story and why you began playing football.

Growing up the son of a football player, probably like a lot of kids, I wanted to be like my dad. I grew up around the game. I used to go to Saturday practices at the New Orleans Saints’ facility, I got to go down to the locker room after Saints’ games, and my brother Cooper and I used to play one-on-one 100-yard football out on the Superdome turf after the games. I also got to meet a lot of pro football players like Walter Payton. So, I grew up around football and, like a lot of kids, had a regular dream of being a football player. As I got older, I certainly realized how hard it is to be a pro football player, and how much work it would take. I never knew becoming a pro football player was going to happen. I hear a lot of players now say they always knew they were going to play pro football. That wasn’t the case for me. I may have wanted to, but when I got into High School, I worked to be the best High School player I could be and so forth in college, and in the NFL. I had a lot of help along the way and a lot of great support from teammates, coaches, and family. I’m very thankful for all the people in my football journey who helped me along the way.

How did you get involved with working with Riddell?

Since I retired from football, I still feel like I’m active and try to stay stimulated. One unique opportunity for me to stay involved in football has been working with Riddell. We’ve done some cool things together trying to grow the game and make the game safer. It’s been fascinating for me to partner with Riddell because they’ve been so committed to helmet innovation and improving on field player protection. Football is the greatest game in the world, and it’s important the right steps are taken to preserve the game by teaching players of all ages proper blocking and tackling techniques. I’ve worn Riddell since High School, and I wore it in college, and all 18 years in the NFL. So, I’ve walked the walk with Riddell and knew I wanted to get involved with a company like them that’s working tirelessly to improve the game of football.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your game 100 Yard Football?

One-on-One 100-yard football — Well as soon as an NFL game ends, everyone takes their equipment off and cuts off their tape, so there is constant tape being thrown on the ground. That tape, when combined, can form a good size football. The game is called “The Kickoff Game.” You throw the ball as a far as you can, and then the other person starts with the ball from that spot. So, Cooper would throw it to me, and I’d start with the ball. If he tackles me then it’s his ball, but if I make him miss and run it 100-yards for a touchdown, then he has to keep kicking to me. 100 yards is a lot of range. You make him miss one time, and it’s probably going to be touchdown. Our parents enjoyed this game, and it helped us sleep on Sunday nights.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the football world?

Well it’s hard to pick just one. Obviously, growing up around the game and meeting some of the great players. I mentioned Walter Payton earlier. Walter and my dad were both from Mississippi, and Walter was convinced that my dad had named me after Walter Payton. My dad would always tell him, “Well no, Walter, you know it’s Peyton with an e and not Payton with an a, and it’s actually a family name.” My dad had an uncle named Peyton, and I was born on his 75th birthday, so I was going to be Peyton whether I was a boy or a girl. Walter would hear this and say, “Yea, yea, but you really named him after me.”

Later, my dad played in the first Pro Bowl in Hawaii. I was four or five at the time, and long story short, my parents can’t find me. It reached the point where they’re now really starting to worry. I had been gone over an hour and my parents are missing their five-year-old child and just about to go into full panic mode when Walter Payton walks up with me. He had me out on a catamaran on the water just cruising with the kid he thought was named after him. Obviously, I can’t remember the story, but my parents tell it and say, Walter was just like, “Hey Archie, what’s the big deal? It’s Peyton and Payton hanging out.” Because my dad played, I got to meet people and experience things like that. Then from playing football all those years, the relationships I made with coaches, teammates, and equipment staff, that’s been my greatest takeaway of all the years playing ball.

What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?

My advice for a young person is to set goals and to have dreams. I think it’s important to dream big and then work hard to try and accomplish those dreams. Setting goals, whether it’s in sports, school, or whatever activity you’re involved in, is a good way to go about it. So, set goals and have big dreams and then obviously work hard.

Is there a coach who had a profound impact on you?

I would say coaches had a big impact on my life and certainly on my professional career. I played for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, who was a great leader to learn from, and my coach in college at Tennessee, Phillip Fulmer, was a loyal coach and great coach to play for. I also still keep in touch with my High School coach, Tony Reginelli, today. He’s 85 years old. There’s something special about a player-coach relationship, and then certainly a QB and head coach are going to spend a lot of time together, so I value the relationships I had with coaches and I’m thankful for the impact they had on me.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on?

There are a number of causes that I’ve supported and been a part of. I’m not the kind of guy to lend my name to something unless I’m personally involved, but one that I’d like to talk about today is the work I’ve done with Riddell and Smarter Football.

Smarter Football is designed to advance the game by recognizing programs that are committed to teaching their players improved on-field playing techniques. A large part of this effort is giving back to the greater football community by highlighting these special coaches, athletic administrators and players, and rewarding deserving programs with equipment grants that allow them to improve on-field protection for their athletes. Through my experience with Riddell and Smarter Football, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to meet some of these coaches and players of some of the most intelligent and caring programs in the world. These coaches love their players, they care about them, and I’ve seen just how dedicated these people are to growing the game of football, which is so important. From tackling techniques to sportsmanship, these teams are setting an example for the football community and I think it’s important that the greater public knows their story.

What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?

For the past five years, through the Smarter Football initiative, Riddell has given more than $100k each year in football gear to different organizations that showcase their commitment to making the game safer, and smarter. To keep the players safe, having the right gear that fits is essential. The Smarter Football program has been very inspiring, and over the past two seasons, I’ve been able to help Riddell select the Smarter Football grant recipients. In 2018, I decided to make a personal investment in the program, which allowed for eight additional schools/organizations to be rewarded new equipment. We previously selected ten schools in years past, and in 2018 we grew it to 18 schools. Last year, I was able to be a part of the Smarter Football selection process and also personally meet with a couple of the programs receiving these grants. Seeing the excitement on the players’ faces is something I’ll always remember.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

I have always taken my role as an ambassador for this game seriously, and I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had with football. Even though I no longer play, I want to continue to help grow the game of football because I’m so thankful for what the sport has given me, and I know I wouldn’t have had the same life experiences if I didn’t get to strap on a Riddell helmet. It’s an honor for me to give these deserving programs, through the Smarter Football initiative, new equipment that helps keeps athletes safer on the field and grows program moral. I take a lot of pride in knowing that we’re helping athletes not only play this year, but many other young rising players for years to come.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

I mentioned having a chance to personally witness the reactions of these young football players when they found out they were receiving this new gear.

Last year we went down to Rogersville, Tennessee, which is about an hour from Knoxville, where I played in college. We awarded Rogersville Middle School in Tennessee with new equipment from Riddell. It’s really hard to describe, and we have video to capture it [on Riddell’s YouTube]. You just can’t duplicate these players’ reactions and their sense of pride, but also their excitement. They couldn’t have been more respectful and appreciative of Riddell’s efforts. The coaches at Rogersville Middle School are awesome and inspiring. These coaches are teaching proper tackling, proper blocking techniques, and now they have the proper equipment to help them further advance this concept of Smarter Football. Also, giving away the equipment in Tennessee with that special group of kids, just an hour away from my alma mater, made it even more special. In the NFL, you get whatever kind of gear you need all the time, but not everyone gets to reach that point. This was a unique day where these kids got to be treated like NFL players, and that was pretty cool to witness and be a part of.

What are 3 things you wish someone told you when you first started and why. Please share a story or example for each.

There’s a lot of things I wish I knew, but one thing, when it comes to football, was being a little more prepared to struggle in my first year in the NFL. My rookie season with the Colts was very difficult. We won three games that year and lost 13. I lost more games my first season in the NFL than I had in college and High School combined. It was a real challenge, and I really struggled being so disappointed and frustrated carrying a lot on my shoulders. I wish someone had told me that I was going to struggle so I could have known that going in. I remember that being a tough season physically and mentally. Not only were we not winning games, but I set the rookie record for interceptions with 26, which is really hard to do. You have to throw three in your first game, four in your second game, and three in your third game. You get ten early and really have a chance to get on a roll from there. It was tough. It was challenging, but because I struggled that first year and hung in there, I learned a lot. The next year we went 13–3, and it’s one the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. I don’t think that happens if I hadn’t been in there and made so many mistakes and learned from them, so in a weird way, maybe I’m glad that it happened. Although, I wish someone would’ve told me this. I probably would have handled it a little better my first year.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think it’s worth it to find something that you’re passionate about. There are a lot of great causes out there. We’re talking about youth sports right now and about proper sportsmanship. Whatever the cause is, kids, hospitals, any type of charity initiative, find something that you’re passionate about and give your time, your money, and your talent. Give all three if you can. If you’re young, just go into a homeless shelter and listen and talk. Certainly, as you get older and have a chance to donate financially it’s worth it. Whatever the cause is. I’ve focused our philanthropy on young people, whether it’s sick kids in a hospital in Indianapolis, or just kids who don’t have life easy. People like to know that someone else is looking out for them, so I think it’s worth it for people to find a cause they are passionate about and give back. You can make a difference, and also it can be personally rewarding as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite. My dad gave me a lot of quotes as a kid. I remember one that applied to a lot of things. There’s a great Pittsburgh Steelers coach named Chuck Noll who once said, “Pressure is something you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing.” I think that applied to me at the time. I was 12–14 years old in school. We all know that feeling when you get in to take a test and you haven’t studied for it. You get nervous. You start sweating. And this certainly applies to sports, business, life, whatever it is. Knowing it’s worth it to prepare is how this quote has been relevant in my life. To prepare, to do your homework, whether you’re studying for a test, big job interview, preparing to play football games and studying film, it’s worth it to do the little things in preparation. This way, you can go out there and thrive in that moment instead of being overwhelmed. You really shouldn’t feel pressure if you’ve done everything to prepare yourself for that role. It’s okay to get nervous. In fact. I think it’s good. It means it matters to you, but there’s a difference between getting nervous and feeling pressure, and I thought that was a good quote.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of my favorite athletes and other figures in entertainment and the business or political world, and I’ve been very honored and humbled by that. If I had to pick one, I’d say Paul McCartney. I actually had the chance to meet him briefly. Saturday Night Live had their 40-year anniversary, and they had all kinds of actors, entertainers, and people who had been part of that show, so I got to meet him briefly, but to sit down and have a breakfast or lunch with Paul McCartney, a Beatle, would be cool. He’s seen a lot, he’s been around, he’s been doing his craft at the highest level for a long time, and I think he’d have some great stories.

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