After that incredibly awful Broncos defeat last night and all the really mean but "funny" posts all over the Internet, I feel compelled to explain why I am a Peyton Manning fan and not necessarily a Denver Broncos fan.
I grew up in a NASCAR home. You have a favorite driver, not a favorite auto racing team (i.e. Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports). Well, I guess some people do, but not my family. If our man was out of the race, then moderately pulling for another Richard Childress Racing teammate wasn't totally unheard of.
I was a Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fan… because my dad was. I would spend Sundays watching that black #3 go 'round and 'round those tracks. I guess my "relationship" with the player started at a young age. Watching NASCAR was a way for my dad and I to bond. I did everything I could to learn more about Dale, Sr. (or at that time in the 90s, he was just Earnhardt… Jr. hadn't made his NASCAR debut just yet.) I watched his interviews, read racing magazines, made collages of Dale, and wrote him letters. Like real letters, not emails. My dad found the address to Dale's office and we sent him a letter in my best second grade handwriting. To our surprise, he sent back two personally autographed pictures of himself! I still have mine somewhere. It's put away for safe keeping. I adored that autograph! I displayed it for years. I felt like I had a friend in Dale. I wrote to him a few more times after that but I don't recall getting any responses. No matter, though! I was happy with my first response.
I continued to watch NASCAR throughout the years but as I aged and became more interested in boys and friends, I didn't watch it as much but my dad still did (and does). In 2001, I remember where I was and who I was with when I heard on the radio that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in a racing accident during the biggest race of the year, The Daytona 500. All I could think about was calling my dad. I didn't have a cell phone at the time but as soon as I got home, I hugged my dad and told him how sorry I was.
In the days to follow, I got on the Internet and printed all sorts of articles and pictures of Dale and made my dad a scrapbook. He still has it to this day. I felt like my dad lost a friend and we lost a family member. A man who was in our home every Sunday afternoon. I can pretty much guarantee my dad shed a few tears for his beloved race car driver's demise.
It was no question that our next favorite driver would be Dale, Jr. He was fresh and new and not looking too bad at the time (nowadays it's hit or miss with him). After Dale, Sr. died, I pretty much stopped keeping up with NASCAR. I don't watch it on tv but I did see my first race two years ago. It was awesome! And of course, I was rooting for my Dale, Jr. and even took a few pics of him from way up in the stands.
In my home, we weren't big on national league sports or even much on the college level until I started at East Carolina University. Being completely naive and misinformed about all things professional sports related, I always believed that college players were better than professional because college played for the talent; not the paycheck. Well, lo and behold, who usually becomes a professional athlete but a college one.
Dating my now-husband, he changed my mind about sports. I began watching NCAA sports and the occasional NFL game. It wasn't until 2006 that I started to really show interest in NFL. I remember saying to a friend "NFL isn't bad. I just don't know which team to pull for." Being from North Carolina, you'd think the choice would be made for me. Nope, I wanted to watch some games and decide for myself. The first real NFL game I watched all the way through happened to be played by the Colts. I don't even remember who they were playing, just that their quarterback was amazing. He had an arm on him. I can't tell you who won that game but I knew I wanted to watch a few more games played by that quarterback, Peyton Manning #18.
So I did just that. The next week, I looked up their game schedule and watched the Colts play once more. I was hooked. Watching Peyton throw that ball down the field right into the hands of his receiver was awe-inducing. It was magical.
Some "true sports fans" may call me a bandwagoner or not a real fan or something along those lines. I was new to NFL and Peyton Manning was placed in my line of sight on the one day I decided to give this professional sport a go. That's where the love bloomed. Since then I've been following Peyton Manning through his career, the ups as well as the downs.
Yeah, he got himself a Super Bowl and a win in 2007. That sure didn't change my feelings about him. Doing my research, I found that the Mannings eat, breathe, and live all things football. They know their stuff and how to play the game. Watching interviews with Peyton, I began to like him even more. So down to earth, so truthful, never placing blame on others, and even a funny guy. What wasn't to like?
Perhaps I didn't know enough about football as a sport when I began giving it some interest. Maybe I didn't realize that in order to be a "true fan" you have to pick a team and not a player. To be sure I realized that there are rules to being a sports fan. Most importantly, you can't be a player fan; you must be a team fan.
^^ Bless you, I hope you can read my sarcasm.
Through the years, the more I see him play, the more interviews/commercials/SNL appearances/documentaries I watch, the more news articles I read, the more I like the guy. I followed him from the Colts to the Broncos and I'll follow him wherever he goes after that. Even during his time off for his neck surgeries, I didn't fully root for other players or teams. I still watched football and maybe I was happy when Eli did some good things and got his Super Bowl win too.
So all in all, I AM a player's fan; not a team fan. It's how I was raised; it's in my upbringing. It's all I know. And furthermore, who can blame me for choosing Peyton Manning as my favorite NFL player? Sure he had a terrible game last night but how many players do you know would have stopped to sign autographs, talk to fans, and speak as well as he did during his post-game interview? Some, sure, but not enough.