THIBODAUX — Don’t ask Peyton Manning about his plans for life after football.
He’ll politely brush you off with a “I never think about those things.”
And especially don’t ask him what he believes his place in football history is.
“I don’t know,” he said Friday. “That’s deeper than I can think about right now. I’m just worried about two-a-days here in Thibodaux, Louisiana.”
So let’s dwell on how, in his 20th year of participating in the Manning Passing Academy, the five-time NFL MVP — the league’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (who is also on the verge of becoming the yardage and completions leader), the only athlete invited to participate in both the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary show and David Letterman’s final show and the one who made a remarkable recovery from the neck condition that threatened his career four years ago and is coming back for an 18th season when it again looked like he might be finished — can enthusiastically talk about how stimulating for him it is to tell eighth-graders what they can do to be the best they can be.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re slow or not very strong,” he said. “Get in there and jump rope so at least you’ll have good feet. And then put in a lot of time in the weight room. And always be learning, always be asking questions.”
And that, said ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen, who was on hand Friday, is why Manning’s spot on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks has been assured for years.
“Peyton believes in paying it forward, and he always has,” Mortensen said. “That means not just investing in a camp like this, but investing in the college quarterbacks here, too. That’s because people have invested in him. He’s a great ambassador for the game of football and will be for a long time coming.”
Not surprisingly, the idea for the Manning Passing Academy was Peyton’s idea, one that came to him when he worked as a counselor at Bobby Bowden’s camp during his college career at Tennessee.
Not only was it a chance to teach fundamental passing skills in Louisiana, which was then considered a quarterbacking backwoods on the high school level, but it also was an opportunity for the Manning brothers to spend four days together with their dad, something they might not get many chances to do down the line.
Mind you, this was while Cooper was just beginning his business career and Eli was a freshman at Newman.
And even now, Archie Manning says, with all he has going on in his life, Peyton annually suggests tweaks for the camp while determinedly maintaining its core principles.
“A lot of these camps have turned into mini-combines that are all about recruiting and that don’t spend much time on the freshmen and sophomores,” Peyton said. “We treat the freshman quarterback who doesn’t have a good spiral the same as the hot shot. The goal is always the same: trying to help the passing game.”
That also goes for helping the 40 college quarterbacks who work as counselors.
Peyton and Eli, along with visitors who this year include Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy, conduct Q&A sessions with that group, giving them insight on what will be expected at the next level.
Maybe it’s no surprise that half of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL have passed through the Manning Academy as either campers or counselors.
The family bonding counts, too.
On Friday, Peyton described the workout session with Eli from the day before — first in the weight room, then throwing to Nicholls State receivers and running drills with the college QBs — as a special time because it’s their only chance to do so each year.
There’s time with Cooper, too. Peyton wears No. 18 to honor his older brother, whose playing career was cut short by a spinal condition.
At the Letterman finale, where tickets were impossible to obtain, Cooper was Peyton’s guest.
Peyton has long claimed that Cooper is Archie’s and Olivia’s favorite because they’re the ones who live in New Orleans — meaning their three children (Red’s grandkids) are more accessible than Peyton’s twins or Eli’s three children.
Which leads to questions about where Peyton will live once his playing career is over. Archie professes not to know and, on Friday, Peyton said, “It’s hard to say. But New Orleans will always be part of my life.”
Presently there is speculation that Gayle Benson will one day have to sell the Saints and/or Pelicans because of the difficulty to fulfilling the irrevocable trust for Renee, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. Peyton would be a natural to put together an ownership group with himself as president, much as John Elway now runs the Broncos.
“I’ve heard that story,” Archie said. “I know ownership is something he would enjoy. I know whatever he does, he will attack it. Peyton has always handled his business well.”
And for this weekend, his business isn’t talking much about the upcoming season, whether it might be his last or especially what might lie beyond.
It’s about the Manning Passing Academy.
“I meet people who are now in their 30s who were in our camp years ago, and they’ll tell me what a good time they had and how much it helped them in their high school careers,” he said.
“That’s always a real bonus for me to hear.”