March 11, 2016

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Manning’s career shows that faithfulness in little things leads to greatness

Sean GallagherOver the course of his 18 seasons in the National Football League, Peyton Manning put up big numbers. He completed the most passing touchdowns at 539. He amassed the most passing yards at 71,940. And he won the most NFL Most Valuable Player Awards at five.

All of his impressive statistics became set in the history books when Manning announced his retirement during a March 7 press conference in Denver. Many fans in Indiana watched the press conference closely because of their fond memories of #18 from his 14 years leading the Indianapolis Colts, including taking them to a victory in Super Bowl XLI in 2007.

Manning is also beloved by people across Indiana because of the way he contributed to the common good of the community. Like the big numbers he put up in his football career, Manning made a splash when he gave millions for the construction of a health care facility for young people that now bears his name: Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, which is on the campus of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

Anyone can see or fondly remember these tremendous accomplishments in athletics and philanthropy. But they all stand on the foundation of so many small things that Manning did from day to day that remains hidden from the public eye.

The amazing passes that Manning completed to a host of receivers, that were thrown into the tightest of coverage, were made possible because of hours of practice and film study, which no one but Manning’s teammates and coaches ever saw.

In game situations, Manning was a master at examining the defense in the waning seconds before the snap of the football. He was an expert at picking up the smallest of signs that would tip him off to what the defense was going to do. It might be a cornerback turning his hips slightly out, or a safety moving ever so slightly up toward the line of scrimmage.

Manning had become such a football genius through his relentless study of the game that he could notice these signs, process their meaning, decide in his mind what offensive play would best exploit them and then effectively communicate a change in play to his 10 teammates, often in a visiting stadium filled with loud fans, in the span of a few seconds.

The same principle also was at play in the way Manning gave back to the community. Underlying his massive public support of Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital are the countless other small acts of charity he’s made to hurting individuals and their families that no one ever knew about until the recipient came forward to tell his or her story.

As we give thanks for the great gift that Peyton Manning has been to football fans and the broader community over the past 18 years, and look forward to his continued contributions as he enters retirement, we can also learn a spiritual lesson from the example he has given us.

Building with the help of God’s grace a life of faith here and now worthy of the glories of heaven happens through daily fidelity in little loving deeds, caring words, and acts of devotion to God that are often only seen by him.

None of us will have a Hall of Fame career like the one Manning just completed. But the reception he will receive five years from now at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will be nothing compared to the welcome any of us can receive in heaven. So go out there and give each day your best shot with the help that God always provides.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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