Thursday March 10, 2016
A Pass from Peyton Manning
I‘ve told this story before but not here. So one more time.
In spring 2001, I was working on the first Xbox iteration of “NFL Fever,” a short-lived game that never could compete with “Madden NFL”—despite, I should add, our cover guy that year, Peyton Manning. One day he and his father, Archie, another football legend, arrived at RedWest in Redmond for a meet-and-greet with the team. Hell, I can even tell you the exact day: April 16. I know because that evening I went to Safeco Field to “greet” Alex Rodriguez on his first day back in Seattle after signing a $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. That game was a proud moment for me. Before then, Mariners fans had always been rather polite with returning players. We’d always applauded them. Not A-Rod. We showered unrelenting abuse and paper money on the bastard for nine innings. It was the beginning of something new, for both us and him.
Anyway, on the Microsoft campus, everyone on the team got their photo-op with our cover guy. Peyton stood in the cold and drizzle, polite, smiling, gracious, as each of us took our turn. Some folks, in their photos, had Peyton handing off to them, etc., but I was too shy for that. And all of us were too shy to ask for what we really wanted.
Almost all of us. One upper-level mucky muck wasn‘t. When the photo session ended, standing 20-25 feet away, he clapped his hand, held them up, and said, “C’mon, toss it here.” Peyton did: a nice lob. Almost before it arrived, the mucky-muck was shaking his head. “No, no, no,” he said, and tossed the ball back. “I mean really throw it.”
A small smile passed over Peyton's face.
I swear, the arm motion of the second throw was exactly the same: easy, smooth. He wasn't rearing back or anything. But the ball just shot out of his hand like a rocket and landed right in the guy's gut. I still remember the small satisfactory “oof” sound the mucky-muck made. But give the dude credit. He asked. He can say, “I caught two passes from Peyton Manning.” Me, I just got this picture.
Well, one more thing. The football in question was mine, so later in the afternoon I had to chase Peyton down to get it back. “You want me to sign it?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. He got out his black marker but paused. He turned the ball around in his hands, reading. “What are all of these other signatures on it?” he asked. I didn't go into the whole permatemp situation at Microsoft; I merely said that I'd left the team last year and this was my going-away present back then, and everyone signed it with little messages like “Great working with you.” One line, from a guy named Jimbo, I still remember. I was the only non-gamer on our team, so whenever we had to do a group test for like “Motorcycle Madness,” I would always lose, but everyone would have to wait for me, with my handle “Withak” (as in “Erik with a k”), to finish. So on the football Jimbo wrote, “Withak, hurry up and finish!” which I thought was pretty funny.
Anyway, on the football, Peyton, with another small smile, gave me his autograph then added, “Great working with you!” which I also thought was pretty funny.
I had that football for about 10 years. But I didn't try to protect it or anything. The opposite, really. My friend Gavin and I used to toss it around the Microsoft parking lot during (for him) smoke breaks. Eventually, it began to shed and a few years ago I just threw it away. NFL Fever? Microsoft tried three iterations before throwing away not only that title but the whole sports division of Microsoft Game Studios, including NBA Inside Drive and NHL Rivals. This week, it was Peyton Manning's turn. On Monday, he announced his retirement from professional football.