KAPOLEI, Hawaii – Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is on a mission at the Pro Bowl. From finding out information about the Baltimore defense from the Ravens coaching staff that's running the AFC squad to buddying up to Houston defensive end Mario Williams, Manning openly professes to mixing a healthy dose of business with pleasure.
Most important, Manning has become something of the mayor of the Pro Bowl as he makes his ninth appearance this year. While many players tire of the long trip to Hawaii, Manning calls it his "duty" to play in the game. On Monday night, as players gathered at the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort, Manning spoke to them about the importance of the week.
On Tuesday, he spoke with Yahoo! Sports and other reporters about a number of subjects, ranging from the coaching change at Indianapolis to the future of Marvin Harrison to some of his better (among many) commercial performances.
Question: Do you pick up any football out here?
Peyton Manning: Absolutely. I want to make sure I figure out as much as I can about the Baltimore Ravens defense. Slowly chip away at it each day, get a little something each day, pick up something here and there. Obviously, I'm disappointed [former Ravens defensive coordinator and new Jets head coach] Rex Ryan is not here.
The worst part is that we're going to play the Jets and Baltimore next year, so I'm going to see this type of defense two times, which is too much for any quarterback to have to think about it. But it's a little bit every day. If I can get something on the blitz package, that's good. It's a fun week, but there is some work to be done. I didn't get much [Tuesday], but hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.
Q: OK, but in your attempts at espionage, how much truth is really out there?
PM: Somebody said when I was talking to [New England coach Bill] Belichick two years ago out here, it was 60 minutes of lies being told back and forth. I put up something, he's putting up something back. … But I'm on a mission. I'm going to find out something.
Q: So when you take Mario Williams to breakfast, that's part of it, too?
PM: I bought Mario Williams breakfast. See that's the other thing. I work schemes with the coaches and maybe any player who might be leaving that team, maybe that player will sing a little bit. I work relationships, too, with defensive linemen. I bought Mario Williams breakfast, so maybe he'll remember that twice a year. Maybe when he gets that free shot, you know, he won't drive me into the ground. Like I said, it's a fun week, but there is work to be done.
Q: With Marvin Harrison, do you have any sense of what's going to happen there as the Colts deal with his salary?
PM: I really don't know. It's hard to think about his not being there. Besides the impact that [offensive coordinator] Tom Moore has had on my career and obviously what coach [Tony] Dungy did for me in that seven years, it's hard for me to think about what my career would be like if I didn't have Marvin Harrison for 11 years. I mean, there's not a single time that I lined up and threw the ball to him where there was a doubt in my mind that this would be a completion. It shocked me if he ever was covered.
That's the kind of guy you want to play for. Unbelievable work ethic, never misses a practice, always wants to go against the starting corner in practice, doesn't want to go against a scout team corner. Thinks that's a waste of his time. [He'll say], "Just go ahead and give me the best out there." And his goal is to embarrass a corner, not just beat him. He has that competitive mentality on the field.
So that's been the worst part about football for me, losing [teammates such as] Edgerrin James, Tarik Glenn, coach Dungy retiring, guys you have played a lot of games with, gone to battle with, but then the business side of the game comes in. You hope it doesn't happen, be it Marvin or [center] Jeff Saturday. Both these guys, I can't imagine not playing with these guys. But that's where [Colts President Bill] Polian is one of the best at it and he's going to do what's best for the team. But it's hard to separate the personal side of it.
Q: Could you relate a story about Harrison, because he doesn't reveal much.
PM: I'll say this: There's a lot of players on the team, myself included, who don't know much about Marvin. Marvin is a guy who is very private, very guarded and that's ever since I've been there. I feel I know him pretty well. I've been to Philadelphia with him before and he's been down to New Orleans for our football camp, so we have spent time together off the field.
But you guys think that when you're not around that he's opening up to everybody and I can promise you that you're mistaken. He's a quiet guy, but I know on the field that he's second to [Jerry] Rice [statistically] and there's no better receiver to me. This decade, it has been him. I'm biased as a teammate, but the reason I say that is that the corners tell me that. I always ask the corners over here, Aaron Glenn, Ty Law – they're the ones who will tell you. Who do you not like to cover? "Marvin Harrison." I say why? "All his routes look the same over the first 10 yards," which to me is the ultimate compliment to a receiver. "In the first 10 yards, we can't tell if he's going to the post, to the sideline, back to the quarterback, we can't tell. So the worst thing he can do is beat me deep." So what are they going to do? Back off, so they give you all the short routes. Then, the one time they think, "Oh, he's going to run that hook route," they squat and he runs right by them.
So, to me, … that's the ultimate compliment to Marvin. It has been a privilege to play with him and I hope he's back, but I haven't talked to him about it. The season ends and everybody kind of goes different directions over a couple of months. I know with coach Dungy retiring, there's possibly going to be a business decision made, but I hope it works out the best for him and Saturday. I want all these guys to be rewarded.
Q: You're making the transition from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell. How do you expect that to go?
PM: Well, this is the third coach I've had, but I've always played in the same offensive system and that's not going to change. We've got Tom Moore coming back, which is key because I didn't know if Tom was going to retire as well. But with him and Jim having worked with the offense so much, I don't expect there to be any change in that. We have some new guys, particularly on defense, but that's something that Jim wanted so that he could be comfortable. That's important for him to be able to implement the things he wants to do with our team.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Pro Bowl going to the mainland?
PM: As a player, it's your duty to go. It's a special honor and you need to go. But I do think, whatever player makes it next year, it will be different. To me, we've got 38 first-year players over here this year and to see these guys, that's what it's about. This week can make a huge impression on you. You get to know these guys, get to pick up a little football. You look at this roster, [wide receivers] Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker … it's a thrill for me. I watch these guys play and if you can't hit Brandon Marshall or Andre Johnson on a post route, something is wrong with you as a quarterback. They cover 10 yards a stride.
You got [running backs] Leon Washington and Ronnie Brown. I think the fact that it's going to be the week before the Super Bowl, I know with [Pittsburgh linebacker James] Farrior and [Pittsburgh safety Troy] Polamalu, there's no better week than to be here after you've won the Super Bowl. That was one of the best weeks of my life after that. It's a nice reward. So the fact that the guys who are in the Super Bowl won't be able to play in it and, like I said, Miami is one thing, but the Super Bowl is in Indianapolis (in 2012) and it's pretty doggone cold in Indianapolis in February.
I don't know what that's going to be like. I'm not sure that's necessarily a reward. I love Indy, I live there year-round. That's my hometown. I'm just not sure if all the other players are going to feel that way. … It's somewhat like changing coaches. If something is good, why do you want to change it? I don't know the economic factors that came into play. I know the times I've been over here, it's a special week and coming over to Hawaii is a special deal.
Q: Talk about the importance of the Pro Bowl.
PM: We have a bunch of new players over here, which is a positive. It means that the voting is correct, the players are voting the right guys in. The Pro Bowl is a big deal for a lot of guys. It can be a deal for his contract situation, his future. They will always say, "Pro Bowl running back Thomas Jones" from here on out even after he leaves. So the fact that we have so many new players is good.
It's a memorable week because you get to be around the top players in the league, you get to know them, get to learn a little football from them. All these young linebackers over here ought to be picking Ray Lewis' brain and Tony Gonzalez at tight end. Learning some football from these older guys is something these young players need to do because they're going to carry on the tradition of the league.
Q: You really seem to savor this experience more than some other guys.
PM: I do. I shared a few words with both teams [Tuesday] night. I mixed a little comedy in there, but I had a couple of serious points. But it is an honor and I've never taken it for granted to be over here. To be voted by your peers, players and coaches you go against is a special honor. So I said to take advantage of it, enjoy it, make some friendships, you never know what guys you might end up playing with, these coaches, so you're always kind of auditioning. There are some great players and really some great guys to be around.
Q: In all the fine acting roles you've had on commercials …
PM: Be careful here, I'm a football player.
Q: OK, in all the comedic moments you've done in commercials, what is the quintessential Peyton Manning?
PM: I've had people tell me they don't recognize me if I'm not in a robe. Being a jock, I don't really wear a robe except for in these commercials. I'm kind of a blue jean, t-shirt kind of guy, but the robe has become my signature outfit now. I will say this, it has given me a unique relationship with fans. Our Colt fans are the greatest, but I go on the road and you get fans who are dressed down in full Steelers jerseys or Patriots or Jets or whatever and they're reciting a line from a commercial and I don't feel like they're doing it in a negative way. I hear them say, "Take a hike" or "You're goin' down" so it's kind of, to me, the fans are what the game is all about. Going through airports in different cities, it's a connection to the fans, kind of a unique relationship with the fans all over the country.
That's what I tell the directors of these commercials. I say, "Guys, we're not doing an Oliver Stone movie here, I am a meathead football player, OK?" Let me say, "Y'all." Let me say, "Yonder." Let me say the things the way I would say it. So I feel like the ones who let me say it the way I would [come out better].
I was in the eighth-grade play, that's the extent of my acting career. Everybody saw that eighth-grade play a couple of years ago, doing my dance. Unfortunately, that was a mistake on my part, revealing too much. … [Colts running back] Joseph Addai says he laughs every time I say the word "chicken."