By Benjamin Block
Don’t call it a ‘Pey’ back.
News of Peyton Manning participating in a quarterbacks meeting Tuesday, helping little brother Eli and the New York Giants game-plan for their upcoming matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, spread faster than a three-step drop.
Manning’s Denver Broncos ousted the Steelers last January in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs, en route to capturing the Super Bowl, after which he retired.
But any inkling of No. 18 returning to the NFL is pure hyperbole.
Manning, who was on hand Wednesday afternoon at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria to accept Sportsman of the Year honors from the March of Dimes, laughingly quelled any rumors of a comeback, telling WFAN.com, “I’m out of eligibility.”
Eli told reporters Tuesday following his big brother’s surprise visit: “I’m sure he misses that environment — just the game plan, how you’re going to deal with things, protections, how you’re going to pick things up. Just getting back in that flow of things is, I’m sure, a little reminder of how special it is to be in this situation.”
Still in the honeymoon phase of his retirement from the NFL, 10 months removed, all 6-foot-5, 230 pounds of Manning still looked the part of a superstar quarterback. He was outfitted in a navy windowpane patterned suit, a tailored light blue dress shirt, black wingtip shoes, capped off with a Broncos-colored burnt orange tie. The tall frescoed ceilings of the Waldorf’s event space appeared less towering in his presence.
The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer wore a positive face, claiming that he’d been keeping occupied. Or so he said.
“I’ve stayed busy and stayed stimulated at the same time, and protected some free time to do some things that I’ve always kind of wanted to do, but just never had the chance,” he said.
Renowned clinical and sport psychologist Dr. Leah Lagos believes Manning’s evolution is an interesting topic.
“You take someone like Peyton Manning and wonder about how they’ll transition into retirement, especially when athletes of less magnitude of stardom struggle,” she told WFAN.com by phone.
Lagos added, “When an athlete retires, our research says it takes four to eight years to adjust to a new life.”
Andre Collins, executive director of the Professional Athletes Foundation at the NFL Players Association and a former Redskins linebacker, shared Lagos’ sentiment.
“It does take a long time to come down from some of what the game provides,” he said in a phone interview.
Manning, however, might be a beneficiary of a faster learning curve than other athletes that transition into retirement.
The “Saturday Night Live” natural host and pitchman for Nationwide Insurance, DirecTV and Papa John’s Pizza, has already endeared himself to the public. And according to Lagos, that goes a long way toward protecting himself against despondency or any struggles with a loss of identity.
Saying all the right things about this next phase of his life, Manning revealed, “I have enjoyed this year being a football fan.” He used the word “invested” when talking about following Eli’s 2016 season and was irked when innocently asked to pontificate on the Giants’ chances this season.
“I think the one thing we do not need any more of in this world are analysts and predictors of football. We have plenty, and I refuse to add myself to that list,” the five-time league MVP stated.
Ironically though, in response to whether he’d go into television next year, Manning was more diplomatic.
“I haven’t said yes to anything. I haven’t said no to anything,” he said. “I think this year the best advice I got — Tony Dungy, who has always been a good resource for me, just said don’t sign up for anything right away; take a year to process some things and reflect.”
Many of the most powerful television industry executives were in attendance for the awards luncheon. They all took turns informally chatting with Manning.
“Fulfilled” was how he described his newfound family structure.
“Our kids have started kindergarten, so it kind of started that chapter, and I work hard to be available to take them to school and pick them up,” Manning said.
But Manning explained that he hasn’t all together distanced himself from the league. He helped promote the game internationally this past September.
“I went to China on behalf of the NFL, kind of like an ambassador, if you will,” he said. “I went to Beijing and Shanghai, which was fascinating. I also went to the Great Wall of China, and I never had the chance to go over there, and so I enjoyed that.”
Appearing complacent in retirement — for the time being — Manning’s overtones suggest that he is anxious for more. A return to football in some capacity seems imminent.
But after 22 years in the light that is lime, he’s committed to a year off for reflection.
“We’re just kind of taking a pause, if you will, so we’ll see what happens in the next chapter, but I really have kind of enjoyed myself this fall,” Manning said.