An hour before the eighteenth annual Manning Passing Academy began, ninety minutes north at LSU, Tommy Moffitt, with his barrel chest and Paris Island voice, was getting nostalgic. Asked about Peyton Manning, the Tigers strength coach took a big gulp of air before reaching into his desk and pulling out a bright orange folder with the name MANNING scribbled across the front. Moffitt, the strength coach at Tennessee when Manning was the Vols star QB in the mid-90’s, had shown all Tiger freshman when they reported to school this frayed old folder that contained pages of the workouts he’s prescribed for the quarterback during the summer going into his senior season. Inside, the printed sheets of paper were covered with notes Manning had jotted down, showing the player’s attention to detail and indefatigable level of preparation. There were some crossed-out poundages of prescribed workout routines where Manning pushed himself to do five or ten pounds more than Moffitt had anticipated. Everything was accounted for and documented with check marks and pluses along with margin notes such as “threw good on the outside 1 on 1… 7x Hills Threw… Agilities/Sand.”
Moffitt told all his newcomers at LSU that he had never-in twenty-five years-seen anybody as meticulous in their preparation as Peyton Manning. The weathered orange folder was Exhibit A, an artifact worthy of its place in Canton once Manning took his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I tell them all, ‘Right now, you’re a better athlete than Peyton manning ever was or Peyton Manning ever will be,” Moffitt said. “But this-THIS!-is what makes him so special. His preparation and his attention to detail and the things he does that nobody else told him, that, ‘This is what you have to do to be great.’”
Moffitt’s favorite highlights of Manning’s career didn’t take place in Neyland Stadium. They happened around the Vols’ football complex at odd hours, when almost no one else was around. Such as the time Moffitt heard a tap on the window to his office. Manning was outside. He needed help. Said he had a bunch of VHS tapes in his SUV that needed to go upstairs. Moffitt came outside to Manning’s old black Oldsmobile Bravada and did a triple take when the senior quarterback opened the trunk.
It was jammed with tapes of every practice, every game, every opponent. Tight copies. Wide copies. End zone copies. Four years of film study. The ingredients to Manning’s secret sauce. They ended up with two full shopping carts and kept unloading and filling.
Or the time Moffitt watched from his office window a nineteen-year-old Peyton tying a surgical cord to a goalpost and the other end around his waist so he could work on his drops from center. Back and forth. Back and forth. For what seemed like hours. Moffitt had never seen any other quarterback dothat, and certainly not doing it on his own, without any coaches or teammates around.
“Nobody here told him to do that,” Moffitt said.