Manning shares gridirion ideas, plays with younger football fans

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Peyton Manning threw passes, called plays and instructed receivers where he wanted them to go. Had their names been Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, it would have been business as usual on the Indianapolis Colts indoor practice field.

Instead, Manning spent Sunday teaching, coaching and explaining the intricacies of football to a couple of dozen pint-sized players who weren’t even Colts fans.

“He taught me how to throw a spiral, how to catch the ball and how to get my hands in the correct spot,” said 9-year-old Chris Buchanan, an aspiring quarterback for the Mansfield (Mass.) Green Machine.

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The team, comprised of a couple of dozen 9, 10 and 11-year-olds, only had two players topping 100 pounds. Most of the players grew up cheering for cheering Manning’s nemesis, the New England Patriots.

For one day, though, everyone put aside their allegiances so the NFL’s two-time MVP could give the Green Machine a personal clinic. It was a reward from the Upper Deck Company, a trading card manufacturer, for answering the most trivia questions in an online contest correctly.

The team’s coaches and parents also sat in on the practice.

While some of the parents wore Boston Red Sox shirts, Manning and Upper Deck made sure there was no hint of Patriots attire. Each player and coach received a blue No. 18 jersey to take home, a prize that likely won’t be as welcome in Boston as it would in Indianapolis.

“He’s a really nice guy,” said 10-year-old Luke Arieta, Mansfield’s other quarterback. “But no, I don’t think I could wear it to games.”

For Manning, Sunday’s clinic was the latest chapter in a long line of work he does with children.

His charity group, the Peyback Foundation, holds an annual Christmas party at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. He’s created a group known as Peyton’s Pals, which has taken disadvantaged children on Disney cruises and provides tickets to Colts games.

Sunday’s event was not part of the foundation’s typical activities, but Manning the teacher found the clinic to be just as rewarding.

“You hear them whispering ’That’s awesome’ or ’I can’t believe I caught a pass from him,’ “ the former University of Tennessee star said. “That’s what makes you feel really good. They’ll remember that growing up, and that’s a big deal. I hope that kids remembers that for the rest of his life.

“It’s great to do something like this right before training camp.”

During the nearly 90-minute session, players ran drills around tackling dummies and pads, tried to simulate the plays Manning drew up on his hand. One player even got a chance to throw to Manning. The pass was incomplete.

Each player also got a picture taken with Manning, which the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback autographed.

Manning also answered questions that ranged from how he chose his jersey number to how far he could throw a football.

“I threw one 73 yards one time on a Hail Mary, with the wind behind me and going downhill, too,” he said.

Then came the jokes.

“I’m 30 years old now, so my arm’s probably hanging down,” he said, slumping his right shoulder while smiling. “Eli can probably throw longer than I do right now, but I shouldn’t say that too loud.” Eli Manning, his younger brother, plays for the New York Giants.

Manning also recounted his usual message: Work hard in school, play as many sports as possible and always dedicate yourself to doing your best.

To the players, it was even better than they had hoped for.

“I thought it would be just him throwing a pass or something,” Buchanan said. “But this was fun.”