» It was Manning’s freshman year at the University of Tennessee when he started to realize how quickly he was able to handle the higher-level aspects of playing quarterback: Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians recently remarked about the quarterbacks he’s been able to coach, like Manning and Tom Brady, that excel because of their quick-twitch abilities not only physically, but mentally.
Arians was Manning’s first quarterbacks coach with the Colts from 1998 through 2000, so he certainly saw the young star’s quick maturation process once he hit the NFL as the No. 1-overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft, turning around a 3-13 team his rookie season into a 13-3 squad the very next year.
Manning was asked today if his quick-twitch ability was something he thinks he was born with, or rather something he was able to create and develop. He said it was his freshman year at Tennessee with David Cutcliffe as his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator where that particular light bulb turned on for him.
“He just kind of shared with me that he was going to give me a lot of information because he could tell that I could process a lot of information quickly,” Manning said of Cutcliffe. “And I think that is a good trait for a quarterback, and when you can process it all, and then make these what Bruce (Arians) described and Coach Cutcliffe say all the time fast-twitch decisions — fast-twitch, not holding the ball any longer than you have (to), being able to get a quick survey of the defense and to make a fast-twitch decision to call a run play or to call a pass play.”
Manning also gave Arians his due credit for his role in shaping him into a Hall of Fame quarterback his first three seasons in the NFL.
“Bruce stuck with me,” Manning said. “I remember that (rookie) season; it was tough. We only won three games — man, he had my back. He said, ‘Just keep learning. We’re getting better. We’re not seeing it in wins, but we are improving.’ And the next season we went 3-13 to 13-3, and I really give Bruce a lot of credit for having my back that whole season and really helping me understand just how fast the NFL is. Because that’s what having a fast-twitch quarterback means, because the speed of the game is so intense that you better be able to process things quickly and make quick decisions, and I really give Bruce credit for helping me with that transition.”
» Manning knew the Colts had something special brewing at the time, but it takes a few years away from the game to really appreciate how special it was: The Colts were the winningest team of the decade in the 2000s, claiming the world championship over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI and earning an appearance in another title game in Super Bowl XLIV.
That wasn’t a coincidence, of course. The team had Hall of Famers all around — at general manager (Bill Polian), head coach (Tony Dungy), at quarterback (Manning), running back (Edgerrin James) and at wide receiver (Marvin Harrison), while others are sure to earn their rightful spot in Canton soon, like wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and kicker Adam Vinatieri, as well as a Hall-of-Fame-worthy owner in Jim Irsay.
Throw on top of that other top players at their respective positions, like center Jeff Saturday, tackle Tarik Glenn, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Bob Sanders and others, and it’s easy to see why the Colts racked up so many wins.
Manning said it was clear the team had something special going early on, but that wasn’t their focus at the time.
“Certainly while you’re playing it’s not something that I think any of us were thinking about,” Manning said. “We were thinking about just the things I was talking about to Mark with, about trying to figure it all out, trying to win games.”
Manning said those Colts teams “was a bunch of guys that loved football, that loved to work hard,” and it was the stars that worked the hardest.
“Watching Marvin Harrison practice, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Manning recalled. “You know, he catches a five-yard pass and he sprints 50 yards down the field with nobody guarding him. And I saw that, Reggie Wayne saw that and said, ‘Hey, I want to practice that way.’ And everybody kind of bought in.”
With that special era now in the past, however, Manning and all those special players, coaches and talent evaluators can sit around and properly reflect on their outstanding accomplishments.
“I think about Edgerrin and Marvin in 1999, being together and kind of beginning this turnaround in Indianapolis, and kind of help make it a true football town and football state,” Manning said. “So (I’m) proud to be going in with Edgerrin, and I was there for Marvin — those are two of the first guys that I called, and I certainly see some of those other names that you mentioned getting a knock on their door in the near future.”