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Several years, I received a call from MasterCard, to see if I was interested in hosting a corporate event in Boston where Peyton Manning was going to be the featured speaker. I was working as the beat reporter for the at the time and covering the NFL was my passion.
I was like, "Heck, yeah! I'll do it," but just about at the same time I got a real queasy feeling. It's one thing to be in front of the camera, it's quite another to be in front of 800 business suits talking on stage with the reigning MVP of the National Football League.
You see, I had a bad experience when I was 12-years-old and public speaking has frightened me ever since. I did a presentation in a science class and everyone started to burst out laughing. Our family had just moved to Chicago and I was the new kid in town. I wondered what my classmates were doubling over in laughter about. I followed the eyes of the kids who were following me and I looked down to see that my zipper of my pants was all the way down. I strongly needed another chance to make my first impression. I was mortified. I've never truly recovered.
Now, I was going to be hosting a corporate outing with Peyton Manning on stage. The irony of Manning in Boston was palpable. And he was not only in the Patriots backyard, but the hotel where the business meeting was being held was a stone's throw from Tom Brady's bachelor pad on Commonwealth Avenue. If you're in Boston as the enemy of the Patriots, chances are you're not going to be well received, especially if you're Manning.
I met with Manning's representatives at the hotel and they took me to meet with Manning as if they were Secret Service agents for the President of the United States — the only thing missing were the sunglasses and the earpieces. When we arrived in the business room where Manning was, I noticed he was studying intently, as if he were breaking down a scouting report on the Patriots defense. He had five index cards laid out in front of him on the table. The future Hall of Famer was preparing for his speech as if he was getting ready to play for the Super Bowl.
His managers interrupted him politely to introduce me. After the pleasantries, he said, "Man, I know you from somewhere, you look really familiar." I was incredulous that he had recognized me from anyplace, considering I had never covered the Colts or the University of Tennessee, where he had attended college.
Manning is from Louisiana and I used to work there, I also did a college football recruiting show for Fox Sports Net that was seen in the Pelican State. I mentioned that and he said, "Nah, I don't think that's it. It will come to me, but I just know I've seen you before." Manning then snapped his fingers and said, "I got it! It was 'Bull Durham!' You were in 'Bull Durham' and I saw you hit that home run." (I had a small part in the movie.)
I smiled and looked at his representatives from MasterCard who burst out laughing. I had been had. Totally suckered. Tom Murphy, who is from was Manning's rep and a person I had known for a while, had set me up and told Manning to ask me about that. It was a pretty funny moment.
One of the things that surprised me about Manning, though, was his size. I'm 6'3" and 225 lbs and he dwarfed me. Made me look like Muggsy Bogues standing next to Manute Bol. When he stood up, he towered over me. He's listed at 6'5" but he's closer to 6'7" and around 260lbs and he made me feel real, real small.
After I cleaned the egg off my face, Manning and I worked our way down to the stage where I had to introduce him and ask him 10 questions before giving him the microphone so he could do his motivational speech. Manning was funny and focused, and it was obvious that he was preparing for a television life after football.
Talking on stage with Manning was a serious adrenaline rush and I needed a cold one to wind down after the event. I was talking to Manning's reps about going out on Newbury Street for some drinks. They were like, "No, he's too tired." That's what they were saying. Manning sauntered up to me and said with his southern drawl, "Paul, Brady said I should go to Son-see's. Do you know where that is?"
Did I know where Sonsie's was? It was practically my front porch of where I lived and one of the best bars in Boston. We were on our way. Manning was fired up to go out and mingle with the Boston public.
When Manning walked into the bar, jaws dropped and cellphone cameras lit up like Christmas trees. People were texting their friends and taking pictures of Manning like he was the second coming of Jesus Christ. And he heard from the Boston fans, who are never shy about insulting anybody things such as, "This is Brady's town!" "Belichick owns you" and "Brady's got three Super Bowl rings, how many do you's got?!"
Manning was a good sport and took it all in. He mingled with the crowd, told a lot of funny jokes, and acted like he was no different than anyone else. He bought people drinks and picked up the entire tab for our party, which was well over $300. A lot of stars think they should get a free ride, a free meal and get away scot-free without paying for anything. Not Manning. He was more than happy to pay the tab — in cash.
We left Sonsie's and walked down Newbury Street to another drinking establishment. To see the looks on the faces of people who had noticed Manning was priceless. It was like, "OMG!" Yeah, OMG, for sure.
It's not everyday you see Manning walking down the streets of Boston in a suit. We closed down the next bar at 2 a.m. and once again Manning was mingling with the fans and taking their insults along with the compliments. He was a funny, courteous guy who was just trying to be like everyone else. It was one heckuva night.