Colts teammates respect Manning's leadership style

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

When Peyton Manning first came to Indianapolis, he wanted to be one of the guys - not some glamorous No. 1 pick.

So the rookie turned down endorsement deals, limited his public appearances and avoided any hint of distractions by focusing almost exclusively on football.

A dozen years and three MVP awards later, Manning's style hasn't changed. Yes, he may cut a commercial during the bye week or in the offseason. Otherwise it's all football all the time.

``What Peyton does is very unique,'' former league sacks champion Dwight Freeney said Wednesday. ``You don't see him clocking out at 4:30 or whenever practice is over and he takes his work home with him. It becomes his lifestyle from August to January.''

Preferably into February, too.

Few have exceeded the lofty expectations at football's most scrutinized position better than Manning.

When he arrived in Indy, the Colts were coming off a 3-13 season, had a new team president, a new coach and a new quarterback. Manning's top priority: Establishing himself as the leader, no easy feat for a 22-year-old rookie.

``From early on, he did it very intelligently,'' said center Jeff Saturday, the second-longest tenured player on Indy's roster. ``He waited for all the endorsements to come from the way he was playing, and I think he felt more comfortable doing it that way.''

On the field, Manning's progression was exponential.

Though he threw 28 interceptions and endured a 3-13 season in 1998, he had 26 TD passes to break Charlie Conerly's 50-year-old record for rookies. Manning also set rookie marks for completions, attempts, yards and consecutive games with a TD pass.

In 1999, he took a monumental step forward by going 13-3, winning a division title and erasing any doubts about his leadership style.

Now in his 12th NFL season, Manning still has never missed a start, rarely missed a practice, broken all of the Colts major quarterback records, matched Brett Favre as the only three-time MVP, won a Super Bowl and has the Colts on a historic quest.

A win Sunday over Denver would give Indy a record 22nd consecutive regular-season win, a record 114th win in a decade, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a perfect 13-0 mark for the second time since 2005.

How has he done it?

``He's a guy who wants to win very badly and he prepares himself to do that,'' former coach Tony Dungy said. ``That rubs off on people. He's everything you look for in a player and he's not afraid to speak his mind. I he's very old-school in that way, the way quarterbacks used to be when I played years ago.''

He takes nothing for granted, either.

Earlier this season, when his young receivers were putting up big numbers, Manning cautioned reporters not to hype their accomplishments because they were still making mistakes.

Behind the scenes, Manning was giving them personal lessons on eliminating the miscues. Each Thursday night, he would spend more than an hour breaking down film with rookie receiver Austin Collie. After practice, Manning and Collie run a modified passing tree to perfect routes.

``I'll take like two routes per day and throw them till I have a good idea of where he's going to be,'' Manning said. ``You have to throw it, not blind, but before he makes his break until the rapport is what it is with Dallas (Clark).''

Manning's skills, as teammates know, go way beyond teaching.

In October 2003, he rallied the Colts from a 21-point deficit in the last 4 minutes for an overtime victory at Tampa Bay. Two years later, he led Indy to a 45-28 victory over St. Louis after falling into an early 17-0 deficit.

In October 2008, Manning did it again - leading the Colts to a victory at Houston after trailing by 17 points with five minutes left. And in November, Manning produced an NFL record five straight comebacks.

Clearly, teammates believe he can overcome virtually anything.

``Our mentality defensively is that we try to win games,'' Freeney said. ``But with the type of offense we have, we just have to get the other team's offense off the field and good things will happen.''

Manning could not have envisioned a better compliment when he entered the league in 1998.

But he has earned it.

``When he first got here, we went through practices scripted,'' Saturday said. ``Now he tells guys where they should be and what he expects. He truly does run the drills in practice. He expects perfection, and I think as a team we've on that that mentality.''

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