By: Brian Brush
Think to yourself about a professional athlete that you believe truly has a love for the game. Those who so clearly stand out, not just for performance and consistency, but also their humbleness and approach. The ones that take to the field, court, or ice because it is what they live for, not what makes them a living.
On March 21st Peyton Manning signed a contract that would bring him to Denver. The city was abuzz with adjectives in a futile attempt to try to put into words what a quarterback of his caliber would bring to a team. There was tremendous coverage of initial interviews and media events surrounding his signing with the Broncos. Following one of those interviews, a local sports reporter provided his observations on a talk radio show explaining that Peyton didn’t appear to be very excited to be in Denver, and he believed that Peyton was “distracted” by all that had transpired. He even questioned if Peyton was ready to come back to football.
The contract he signed was for $96 million, making him the highest paid NFL player in the league at that time. While this is certainly an incredible figure and a huge upside to being good at what he does, I don’t believe that made any difference in Manning’s approach.
One week later Peyton Manning was meeting Broncos receivers at local high schools for unsanctioned practices. A reporter asked one of the players what he thought of these sessions and he replied jokingly, “What would you say if Peyton Manning called you to see if you want to play a pick-up game?” In April, with less than a month in the Broncos organization, Peyton Manning had elevated these “pick-up” games, as reported by Doug Farrar on April 17th:
The new collective bargaining agreement limits the degree to which teams can prepare in the preseason, but Manning is as much a coach on the field as any NFL player has ever been, which certainly lends a more professional air to those throwing sessions on high school fields.
“They have rules and restrictions, which are new,” Manning noted. “We had a good workout session, did get on the field for a little bit, but we can do that on our own at this point with informal workouts or whatever you call it—with players organizing it. That’s one thing that in some ways can be a positive with the players being accountable yourselves [sic] to be there on time and organize it yourself to work on some things that you want to work on in a controlled environment. We’ll do that for the next couple of weeks.”
Decker has already seen the effects of Manning’s football intensity, and the third-year player is very impressed. “He’s a natural-born leader,” Decker said of Manning on Monday. “In the weight room, he’s the guy taking command of running from station to station. On the field, he’s doing drill-work, getting us lined up and having us do things for a particular reason. There are no wasted movements, no wasted time, and that’s a great thing to have in a leader like him. He just loves the game.”
The “distraction” and lack of excitement the sports reporter noted in Peyton’s interview was in fact focus. Manning was thinking of getting to work; planning, plotting and organizing his thoughts.
The contract didn’t dictate that he take charge of a new team in the fashion he did. The contract does not require him to mentor or develop others. Peyton Manning’s unique vision, attention to detail, and methodical approach lay in him, not a document. His love for the game makes him see, feel, and hear things differently than those players who just show up for practices and games.
Peyton Manning is just one of the many professionals that come to mind when I stop and think of those who have a love for the game. From the current UFC to the 49ers of my childhood, and from a golf course to professional surfing, I alone could come up with a list of one hundred people that are the true standouts in their love for the game. The funny thing is that a list of one hundred still represents just a sliver of a percentage of all who are lumped together under the umbrella of professionals.
I am blessed to make a living as a firefighter. The salary I make is comfortable and provides me and my family a life we are more than proud of, but I don’t think this has made a difference in my approach. When I started this adventure in the fire service 16 years ago, there was no pay and I had no family to support, but within a few days of training I found a love for the game.
I know if you are like me, our love for our game makes us see, feel, and hear things differently than those who just show up for their shift. We look at tools differently, imagine fires, see art in station life, and attempt to synchronize fire ground activity. That love for the game is constant and unwavering. We have had professional highs and lows, even hit points where we attempt to will the love out of us, or suppress it, to just “get by” but it just can’t be done. If you have that love for the game you can’t turn it off, it can’t be hidden for long, and it will never go away.
At times our focus is misconstrued by observers, “that guy is way to serious”. We are occasionally criticized for taking such a public position in the fire service by those who also wear our uniform. Our own brothers question our motives. They believe it is uncool to be so “in to it”. These same brothers could produce a list of athletes names in minutes to respond to the first paragraph of this piece. If only they could understand that our motive is simply a love for the game. Fortunately we do not have to answer to them or anything outside of us —eventually they will tire, become distracted, or just fade away.
We do have to answer to that which we love because it lies inside us. Those loves that lay inside me are my family, close friends, and the passion I have for my game—the fire service.
Will we ever make someone’s list and be considered in that small sliver of a percentage of professionals who truly stands out? Who cares? This game is not to make a list, it is to serve, and my love for it is so deep I feel it is a blessing just to be a part of it. My only wish beyond being allowed to play as long as I can is that I am the reason at least one other person finds their love for the game.
Love the game.
Love the game for the pure joy of accomplishment.
Love the game for everything it can teach you about yourself.
Love the game for the feeling of belonging to a group endeavoring to do its best.
Love the game for being involved in a team whose members can’t wait to see you do your best.
Love the game for the challenge of working harder than you ever have at something and then harder than that.
Love the game because it takes all team members to give it life.
Love the game because at its best, the game tradition will include your contributions.
Love the game because you belong to a long line of fine athletes who have loved it. It is now your legacy.
Love the game so much that you will pass on your love of the game to another athlete who has seen your dedication, your work, your challenges, your triumphs…
And then that athlete will, because of you,
love the game.