[A personal hero of mine is getting honored today - this is something I wrote back when he retired after Super Bowl 50]
Please allow me to preface this letter by saying I’m not writing this in some wild hope or attempt of you stumbling across the internet and seeing this. That would be like me asking someone to close their eyes, spin a globe a thousand times and point to where I spat my gum out yesterday.
No, Peyton. I’m writing this because I respect you and the incredible portfolio of your grand 18 year career in the national football league. And I want to tell you exactly why.
I have always been a Broncos fan, yet I was a Peyton Manning fan from almost the very beginning. I remember watching as a kid and seeing someone that I immediately respected. That was sort of a weird thing for me, in all honesty. I didn’t know why exactly I respected you in the manner I did.
Was it the humble attitude you carried both on and off the field? Even after the most clutch victories that would have most quarterbacks today dabbing? Was THAT what made me respect you?
Or was it the level of preparedness you exhibited. The hundreds and hundreds of hours you spent in a film room, studying. Grinding to reach a mental level unprecedented by your foes. Something that even the greats couldn’t rival. Did I respect THAT?
I’m not sure, Peyton. But what I AM pretty damn sure of is this...
You and I are a little more similar than you might originally think.
Let the records serve that I will never be famous. I will never be a media icon such as yourself. And I sure as hell won’t be breaking any records. Yet, if there’s one thing that makes us similar Peyton, I think it’s the resilience we both share.
...and I think that resilience is one of the most under appreciated and above all, one of the most important qualities a person can possess in life.
Please allow me to explain: I’ll never forget when you endured your first real form of injury. Mainly because, it happened during a time of my life where I felt very much injured as well - mentally speaking.
You see, Peyton, my mom had just died during the time you went down on that field from a six year battle with stage four breast cancer. And during that time, I didn’t know who I really was anymore.
For years and years, I had built a reputation of being the ‘strong’ one of the group. People would always seek me for help. And when I told them I was okay, I meant every word - I knew my mom was fighting cancer. We all were, in some way or another. But life is a battle... so I always seemed to draw strength from watching you from that hospital......
..until one day, when I woke up and it was all over. My mom, the person I was most like in this world, no longer was there.
During that time, I have to admit, I didn’t understand things. I’m sure you didn’t understand them either, Peyton. “Why do we fall?” I’ve always wondered that, buddy. But then I realize, as I write this today, I think we fall down because life makes us stronger in the process from every inch of the fall itself - those difficult moments and circumstances... they forge us into the type of people that can make a difference in this crazy world and society we live in. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
That’s what I still would like to believe..
I almost dropped out of school during the timeline of your injury and my mom’s entrance to heaven. I was in the purgatory of community college and quite frankly, I didn’t know if I ever wanted to go back. I saw a lot of color before that time of my life... I think my view of the world grew a lot darker when the person I had always leaned on in my life suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
Until, I realized... she really was there. She had been there all along. I just couldn’t see things straight.
I think we all have these types of moments in our life, Peyton -- Moments that challenge us to either make a difficult decision or present a choice to us that can change everything. You always taught me the importance of family and because of that, I had a lot of support to finish what I had originally started. You’re a lucky guy to have an Archie or an Eli - just like I’m lucky to have a Donald or a Julie.
As you rehabed, I took 22 units at one time and raced to the finish line to get into a school that would allow me to achieve my dream of academic excellence. It wasn’t easy - nothing big ever is, right? Still though, from watching you rehab and get stronger, I felt like it was my own civic duty and responsibility to myself to do the very same.
So I focused. And the admittance letter spoke to its own volume. I was on my way to UCI.
This is the point where our timelines are kind of strange, Peyton. Because as you began a very new chapter of your NFL career, I too, began my own new chapter as well.
The Colts, no disrespect to them at all, didn’t want to roll the dice on you. But in my heart, I knew one team that would:
The Denver Broncos.
I’ll never forget the excitement I had the morning you announced that you would be coming to Denver. I woke up to a flurry of Facebook and text messages saying, “Peyton’s coming to your team.”
I was in shock. Yeah, sure, I had a quiet confidence in my childhood hero coming to the team I grew up cheering for, but to see it actually come to life and fruition... I wasn’t really prepared for something like that.
Then, as expected, immediately came the other side of the narrative. The critics. The “haters”. The people that said you couldn’t bounce back from an injury like that. The people who said it couldn’t be done.
And I never listened to them, even for a second. And I’m sure you didn’t either, Sheriff. That’s because when you have a true passion for something in life, you don’t let the outside world steer you off track. Football is your passion, Peyton. And for me, well, it’s writing. In my early months of UCI, I felt like it wasn’t enough that I made it there.
I needed to do more. I needed to be more.
That’s why I got heavily involved in the non-profit world before you even began your first true season as a Bronco. I felt like life had given me a new opportunity and I wanted to do everything in my power to give back to that. My friends, the ones that stood by my side the entire way - they know that. We did a lot of pretty small, yet equally impact worthy things together during that time. And I’m glad we did. We certainly learned and grew a lot together.
And then, you started playing. And I’ll never forget the look in my Dad’s eyes as you took that first snap against the Steelers, who were out for blood after the Tebow to Demaryius drubbing in overtime the previous year. It was, “unique”, as you would say. It was the first time where I felt like my mom was sitting in the family room watching beside me. It gave me a strange sense of comfort and pride to see my childhood hero in orange and blue. Perhaps it was white, that game. Regardless, superstitions aside, that first day as a bronco was special - for you, and for me, buddy.
I could write a lot about the next few years - but I won’t. Because it doesn’t need to be written about. You set all those records, You set up all those wins, You took your team to a place we hadn’t seen in years and years. And you did it as classy as you did the first day you entered the league.
Of course, you would never admit it was you doing everything. “It’s a team effort”. I get that, Peyton... but, let me be the first to tell you.
It was YOU that did those incredible things. YOU did it. No one else.
Stepping away from that side though, I’ll never forget the Broncos/Seahawks superbowl. Oh man, I will not. Some people might not understand why I reacted the way I did to that killing - and I don’t ever expect them to. This letter’s purpose isn’t to do that. But I do remember being the only person wearing a broncos jersey at that superbowl party and watching in slow, painfully inducing motion, as the dream of holding up the Lombardi trophy got crushed one Kam Chancellor hit after another.
I remember playing flag football during half time, and accidentally ripping off my best friends t-shirt through a play. I was furious. I was angry. I didn’t understand.
I was in a very difficult place of my life when that was all happening. I was working at a job that, while I was lucky to have, I knew it wasn’t using my passion and potential. So, I would go about every day, scarf a sandwich and protein bar at lunch time, and write in my car... I just wrote... because Peyton -- similar to the way you always practiced, I wanted to be the best. And I knew, the only way I was going to get that was through hard work and most of all, discipline to myself.
People laughed at me a lot during that loss - rightfully so. I ran away from the world a little bit during that time not just because of that defeat, but because I felt like I had let my own personal team down as well.
I wasn’t getting any closer to my dream. I wasn’t upholding a big promise that I had made the night before my mom passed. And I didn’t like the person I was becoming in the process of it all. I didn’t like being Kyle Lambky for the very first time of my life. And that scared the hell out of me, Peyton.
I tried other jobs. Jobs that, I thought would make me happier or give me a renewed purpose in life... but as another hopeful season developed and ended in a one and done situation to the, as irony would serve, Colts... Well, I felt like my momentum in life had peaked, in a sense.
Maybe I was going to have to settle for everything that was in front of me. But then, 2015 happened...
This is the final part of my letter, Peyton - I know it’s gone on long enough. But this is by far the most emotionally meaningful portion for me to write, personally.
2015, as a whole, was one of the most difficult years of my entire life. That’s something, I’m very sure, you might be able to relate to. I mean, as soon as the season began, everyone seemed to be counting you out. And then, when you got BENCHED - Peyton god damn Manning, BENCHED - that happened at a time of my life where things were at their all time- worst.
Again, Peyton - I might be a nobody compared to you, but we are a lot more similar than you think.
My family has a tradition where each year, we go to one game together. We did it the previous year where I was able to see you break the all time touchdown record against the niners, and we were going to do it this year for the New England Patriots. The same game that, ironically, you weren’t even playing in!
I remember standing up all game, screaming through that blizzard with my family. And as the clocked rolled to over time, and CJ Anderson broke free for that game winning touchdown - something inside of me changed forever that night.
I began believing again. In you - in myself. In all the things around me. Cliche, sure. But accurate? You’re damn right, Sheriff. You’re damn right.
I knew you would come back. Because you had done it before. And when I was at home in Colorado spending valuable time with my family, and you got called on to that field... well, again, that was another unique footnote of an incredible story and most of all, an incredible season.
From that point on, I saw something very different in you, Peyton. Yeah, you couldn’t do everything perfectly. But no one can do it perfectly forever! What I saw from you though, that was different, was a look of determination on your eyes that mirrored my own individualistic passion.
I wanted to win just like you did. I wanted to succeed just like you did. I wanted to prove everybody wrong, just like you did. And I knew the only way to do that, was with my teammates:
My family. My friends. My loved ones.
You won, Peyton. Both on and off the field, you won. I want to thank you for helping me through some of the most difficult moments in my life. I promised myself that if I ever developed an outlet to help people, that I would do so... so Peyton, thank you for 18 years of a masterpiece.
Ride on, Sheriff... Cheers to your new chapter - I can’t wait to read it.