Peyton Manning May Not Be Poetry in Motion But He’s a Poet in the Huddle
Coach Tony Dungy congratulates Petyon Manning after one of his signature game-winning fourth quarter drives. "I stepped into the huddle prepared to break out some John Donne when I head someone say fuck it. Immediately I'm thinking 'fuck it, Nantucket,' and audibled a limmerick I remembered from college. It did the trick."
MIAMI, FL (The Sportsman's Daily Wire Service) In his storied nine-year career, Peyton Manning has directed 26 fourth quarter game winning drives. Earlier this season he engineered a fourth quarter drive through the Denver defense, prompting Denver safety John Lynch to remark, “Even if you play well against them in the beginning, you still have to bring it for 60 minutes. I don’t know what happens in that huddle as the game winds down, but I could have sworn I heard Peyton recite a poem we read in Mrs. Switzer’s 11th grade English class. Something having to do with an aerie and a faun and sun-dappled meadows.”
The Unitases, the Montanas, the Ellways…all were legendary for maintaining cool heads in nervous huddles, leading lesser men to improbable victory. While Peyton Manning is a Super Bowl victory removed from joining the pantheon of all-time clutch performers, he is clearly made of similar stuff…with a previously unknown wrinkle: poetry, specifically canonical English and American poetry, from Shakespeare to Keats, T.S. Elliot to Wallace Stevens.
“In his third season, we were down by six to the Chargers with just over two minutes remaining,” said Colts’ offensive tackle Tarik Glenn. “We take the field and ten seconds pass, which at that point in the game is an eternity. Peyton is on one knee, thinking, we hear him mumbling, slowly, he rises to his feet, he takes off his helmut and strikes a pose, his chin jutting, his eyes gazing skyward…’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.’ So on and so forth. We were standing there, tears in our ears. Next thing we know we’re putting it in the end zone, kick the extra point, game over.”
Manning’s inspiring recitation of Shakespeare’s soaring “St. Crispin” speech from Henry V was the first of many times Manning versified the Colts to victory. Over the years, Manning varied the playbook. For a while he stayed on the straight and narrow, using sturdy iambic meter and thumping heroic couplets. Occasionally he’d stick with the works of a particular favorite – for months he’d dip into the unflinching verse of Kipling, then unexpectedly veer into snatches of Whitman. Some poets and some poems worked better than others. Poe turned out to be a big mistake, though he rebounded several weeks later with some of Ezra Pound’s late cantos, which had a settling effect.
“I don’t know what Peyton’s got up his sleeve for Sunday, though I hear he’s working on some original stuff with a tricky rhyme scheme," said Glenn. "Far be it for me to question a winning formula, but I would prefer he stick with established work that’s stood the test of time. The last thing you want is for millions of people watching you, you’re down three with under two minutes to go and your quarterback embarrasses you with some hack drivel that doesn’t scan.”
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