This is the story about the time I met Peyton Manning. Technically Finn met him too but he was too young to remember it.
In the summer of 2003 I was a new mom — Finn was a month old. We were moving back to Alabama the following week, but the one big thing that had to be wrapped up before we could go was John’s Master’s thesis. It was written, but the review process involved multiple professors and we had less than a week to do it.
So for several days I made the two-hour trek from our home in Bloomington to Terre Haute, to the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, from where John was receiving his Master’s and where the Indianapolis Colts hold their annual training camp. My job consisted of taking the thesis to the appropriate person and then waiting for them to read it.
It was summer, so the campus was devoid of regular student traffic. One of these days I strolled (literally, pushing Finn in the big Graco stroller) into the student union, which in the dead of summer resembled a ghost town. We camped out in the lobby, hanging out on a nice little couch where I could sit and read while Finn napped.
We hung out there for several hours, totally unnoticed. For hours not a single person walked by.
Then I heard a commotion. People were coming. I kept reading, not even looking up. The two characters walked by to an elevator that was apparently behind me. They weren’t talking as they passed by but struck up a conversation while waiting for the elevator.
That’s when I recognized one of the voices. I’d heard it before. On TV. I strained my ear to hear, not daring to turn around. Where did I know that voice. Oh, wait, yeah, that sounds like Colts then-coach Tony Dungy. Tony Dungy? Yeah, right, I’m crazy. What would he be doing here. Must have been somebody else.
Note: Let me say, that at this point, I was not aware that the Colts training camp was at Rose-Human. And if I was, I was already suffering from mommy brain, which causes you to forget everything you ever knew and everything you ever will know, and I didn’t remember.
So, the allotted amount of time passes and I start to pack up our things to go retrieve John’s paper from this last reviewer. I start to head out the main door of the student union and encounter double doors — the kind like at malls where you have to go through one set of doors, a foyer, then another set. Being a new mom and all, and thus new at this stroller thing, I wasn’t very good at it. I’ve since become an expert, mastering the art of opening and holding doors while pushing a stroller or cart — nowadays I only take help to be polite to the person who is trying to help someone they deem to be struggling. In reality, I’ve got it down pat. But this day was probably my first time to attack double doors with a stroller.
So here we go, I push open door 1, push the stroller over the first bumpy threshold, then cross into the foyer myself. Whew. We made it into the foyer, only one more door to go. I start to do this all over again when the stroller wheels goes awry. In my attempt to recover the stroller the door starts to close back and yeah, I’m struggling. But in true strong southern woman pride, with God as my witness I’m going to make it through this door, when, lo and behold, someone catches the door and holds it open for me. I’m so grateful I don’t even look up. I wrangle the stroller back on course and through the door and say thank you as I walk through the open door. The person says you’re welcome.
Now I don’t know if I’d ever heard Peyton Manning say the words “you’re welcome” in any of his ESPN interviews, but on this day, that’s all it took for me to know who was standing there. I stopped. I looked over my shoulder and I looked up, and sure enough, it was him. I had to say something right? I mean, this was Peyton Manning. So I said, “Are you Peyton Manning?” you know, just in case I was wrong. In a voice that sounded like Cush on Jerry Maguire he said he was. I proceeded to tell him what a big fan my husband was, that he had watched him in his college days at Tennessee and that now we were big Colts fans. He said thank you and mumbled something else about appreciating the support of the fans, I think. I didn’t catch it because at this point I was star-struck and I was kicking myself for saying the same things that probably everyone who’s ever met him says.
And then he was gone. He walked through the doors from where I had just come and was gone. I kick myself for not having anything on which to get an autograph — the only thing I had was diapers (clean ones even!), but no pen or marker. And really, asking the great Peyton Manning to sign a diaper? How humiliating. But can you imagine having a Peyton-autographed diaper? If I did I bet I’d be the only one in the world to have one.