Peyton Manning is my father. Now, I don’t mean like, my biological dad, or anything—I have one of those, and he’s a great man. I love him to death. My mother too, for that matter. Peyton and I have something different though. In some ways, it’s deeper than the strong bond I have with my real father. In most ways, it’s absolutely fabricated. Regardless, I feel compelled to describe it.
I just get the sense that Peyton and I would have a great time together, you know? Sure, I’m a fairly unathletic 23 year old former English major, and sure, he’s a 37 year old future hall of fame quarterback. Yes, he was 14 when I was born, hardly the age to become a father. So what? Even though we’ve never met (yet), he’s one of the most paternal figures in my life.
I’m merely trying to say it would be great if he picked me up from school in his Buick Verano one day. No, I’m not in school anymore, but it would still be phenomenal. Picture it: I climb into the passenger seat, face flushed with excitement after running around with my friends on the playground. He suggests ice cream and I cheer with boyish delight. He smirks and quips, “as long as you hang onto your cone this time.” Then he winks at me and puts the car in drive.
At the ice cream parlor, we each get two-scoop cones. Me, double chocolate. Him, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie dough. We sit on the curb in front of the shop and lick our ice cream greedily, shooting the shit about school, sports, friends, just life in general. I tell him about Hannah, a girl in class I have a crush on, and he teases me. I turn pink in the face and he ruffles my hair affectionately. Getting back into the truck, he warns me not to tell mom about the ice cream when we get home. She says it always spoils our appetites. I snicker and shut the door.
Back at House Manning, mom is shouting at someone on the phone as we walk through the door.
“Eli?” asks Peyton-dad as he kisses her on the cheek. She nods and rolls her eyes. Chuckling, he checks his watch and turns to me. “It’s 4:00. Go do some homework a bit before dinner,” he says.
Opening my mouth to protest, he holds up a hand. “No buts, kiddo. Get up those stairs.”
I walk sluggishly up the stairs and into my room, tossing my backpack at the foot of my bed and flopping onto it. Right as I pull out my Nintendo 3DS out from under the pillow, I hear Peypa’s heavy footsteps start up the stairs, and immediately jump over to my desk to start working. He takes a sideways glance into my room as he walks by and winks again.
Stunned, I shake my head and wonder how the hell he always knows what I’m up to. Then I busy myself with adding and subtracting fractions. I suck at fractions. An hour passes by. Peyfather comes by my room again and knocks on the open door.
“Hey champ, want to take a break?” he offers.
I lift my frustrated head out of my hands and look over. He’s pointing a football at me.
“Hell yeah I do!!!” I shout.
“Heck. Heck yeah you do,” Peyton shoots back, frowning.
“Oops, sorry. That’s what I meant.”
He smiles and flicks the football toward himself. “Come on buddy, let’s go.”
We both jog down the stairs and through the back door. There’s a miniature football field, 40 yards long, in the backyard beyond the patio. Complete with hashmarks and goal posts on each end.
“Run a slant!” barks Peyton.
I run straight ahead two steps and cut right at a 45 degree angle. Peypadre tosses a perfect spiral to my chest and I catch it in stride. I juke, spin, and stiff-arm a pack of invisible defenders, and dive into the endzone. Getting up, I spike the ball and look back at Peyton. I swear to God he has a tear in his eye. Father. Son. Football.
“Now let’s see that arm!” he calls back, pride lining his voice.
I cock my arm back and launch the ball. It wobbles violently in the air, and hits the ground ten feet in front of Peyton. He furrows his brow and walks over to pick the ball up. Sensing his disappointment, I call out, “Sorry dad!”
Peyton looks up at me and smiles, but there remains a steely look in his eyes. “That’s all right, we’ll work on your throwing motion later,” he calls. “Come over here, let’s practice some footwork.”
I jog over and stand next to him. He snaps the ball to himself and takes five perfect steps back, then leans into a throw. Perfect spiral that nails the left goal post 25 yards away. He looks down at me. “Now let’s do it just like that, without the ball.”
For the next hour, Peyton schools me on my footwork, throwing motion, game calling, everything. Partway through he brings out a legal pad, flips past 60 or so pages loaded with increasingly complex defensive formations and receiver routes we’ve gone over in the last two months, and starts sketching a new one. I can’t even begin to keep up, but I nod my head at everything he says, and do my best with his directions. Right in the middle of a simulated Bum Phillips 3-4 defensive scheme, mom pokes her head out the window.
“Dinner time!” She calls.
“Five more minutes!” Peyton yells, waving distractedly.
Twenty minutes later, I’m on my hands and knees panting, while Peyton is standing on the other side of the field, hands at his hips. Mom comes out again.
“Peyton, let’s not do this again. Dinner’s getting cold,” she warns. Her tone is loving, yet firm.
Peyton lifts two fingers in the air but she cuts him off.
“No more minutes! Let’s go!”
With that, I get up off the ground and trudge toward the house. Peyton joins and puts his arm around my shoulder, whispering, “Good thing we installed backyard floodlights. We’ll come back out after dinner.”
Inside, we sit down at the table to a dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, bread rolls, and a mixed green salad. Peyton licks his hand and reaches for a roll. Mom frowns and swats his hand with astonishing quickness.
“Peyton, what have I told you about that habit! Go wash your hands again!” she snaps, eyebrows raised.
I snicker and spoon a heaping pile of mashed potatoes onto my plate. Peyton gets up from the table and winks at me. I consider for a moment whether he has an eye twitch.
Later, after dinner, we’re all sitting in the living room, watching a rerun of Friday Night Lights. Peyton looks mildly disinterested. Mom, she’s all about it. The show ends and Peyton hops out of his chair and points at me.
“How about some more practice? Whaddaya say?”
Mom cuts in. “No way. He has more homework to do before bed.”
Peyton and I both screw up our faces in protest, but there’s no convincing her. Dejected, like Charlie Brown, we trudge upstairs to our rooms. After an hour or so of work, mom comes in and orders me to bed. I change into my pajamas, brush my teeth, and hop under the covers. Just as I start dozing off, Peyton lightly knocks on my door and sneaks in before I respond. He’s holding a football. He points it at me and winks.
“Eh?” He offers.
To Be Continued…