Don’t Even Look at Me, Peyton Manning

Today, for the first time in my existence, I got invited to join a fantasy football league. Sure, it was a pretty glorious moment, but in the same breath, it was a moment filled with complete and utter anxiety because I do not follow professional sports at all. I keep up with the SEC because it’s part of the contract I signed as a Tennessee resident 23 years ago, but other than that, I don’t really dabble in the sports community. There’s a whole lot of suppressed memories that remind me that’s not the world that I belong in, and I’m okay with that–it’s similar to how I feel about not being welcomed in Anacostia, or most restaurants with vegan options. When asked by my roommate about how competitive I was going to be about it, I explained that I really didn’t care if I won or I lost because I was mostly in it because of a heightened sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the prospect of delicious hot wings. But obviously, I was going to need some help getting started.

I asked my friend Mark who invited me if he could offer some assistance, and he pretty much told me that this is not an aspect of life where people help each other: this is a part of life where people win. I respect that, but I also respect my dad, Wendell’s, advice that he gave to me a long time ago, “If at first you don’t succeed, find something you’re good at.” So, I pretty much gave up on it immediately. I don’t care enough to actually learn about the players… that would cut in to the amount of time I have looking up Jennifer Lawrence GIFs and inside information about the 10th season of Grey’s Anatomy (speaking of, let’s all take a moment of silence for Sandra Oh’s departure in nine very short months). I had no interest in learning, let alone mastering, the art of fake football–if I were going to do that, I would have just played. People throughout my life always said, “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t play football,” which is a nice way of saying, “Hey, I think you’re kind of fat, but in a useful way.” In fact, I played a couple of sports growing up, but none ever panned out: too many yellow cards in soccer for running into people as hard as I could, never placed on the actual volleyball team because I threw volleyballs really hard at practice, and constant benching in softball because I got bored and sat down in the outfield. Some people would say that it all comes down to the fact that I’m not patient or disciplined enough to be an athlete, but I think what, or whom, it actually comes down to is Peyton Manning.
One day in first grade, it was announced that we would have a special guest coming to class… a friend of one of our classmate’s families. Mrs. Ellis could barely get the name out without shuddering in his woven-knit UT orange teacher vest. Peyton Manning would be making an appearance, and most everyone in class continued to pick their noses or playing with their toys, but I remember being so excited. As someone who ingested as much culture as he could from an early age, I knew who Peyton was. So, I went home and told my parents–my dad said UT football was stupid, and the whole thing was rigged, which also reflected his opinion on every Presidential election leading back to Reagan, and the outcome of any given season of American Idol. But my mom understood where I was coming from, so we drove down to Wal-Mart so that I could pick myself up a disposable camera. There was going to be picture evidence of how good of friends Peyton and I would be. I imagined that he would teach me about football, give me piggy back rides, and eventually, we’d go hang out in Neyland Stadium… I could hardly sleep the night before, I was so excited.
But the day came, and naturally some overbearing parents who caught wind of the Peyton-sighting showed up to class. Finally, the time was approaching for me to meet Peyton, aka MAH BEST FRIEND, aka my future personal-Judas. I stepped up to the desk he was sitting at with shaky hands, unsure of what I should do with the camera and the piece of paper and all the emotion. He didn’t look as big as I imagined, which is probably because I envisioned him to be a giant. He didn’t say hi, he just reached and got my paper and signed it. I stood there nervously and asked if he would take a picture with me, and all I heard was “No.” Mrs. Ellis, in her totally baffled state, ushered me away from the table.

I took the autograph to the back of the room by me and stood with a giant knot in my throat. Peyton, why had you forsaken me? I couldn’t even bare to be in the same room, which should have been a tell tell sign that I would go on to have a lot of resentment and boundary issues in my life. I didn’t want to look at him because he had betrayed me. We were supposed to be best friends. He was going to be like the big brother I never had, notwithstanding the older brother I already had. I looked down at the signature, which proved that he had taken absolutely NO time to practice cursive in elementary school, and I ripped it up. I threw it in the garbage, and I never looked back. I went home that night and threw the camera on the couch, and said I wanted nothing more to do with Peyton Manning or football, which was not too much of a stretch because I didn’t have a lot to do with it before. I refused to root for him, and when they won the title in 1998, I made a conscious decision not to eat Tostitos for a solid chunk of time. (Okay, probably for like, two weeks, but I really love salsa. Get off my back).
Many-a-Peyton-fan along the way has tried to make excuses for him: he was probably just flustered or he wasn’t allowed to take pictures or maybe I’m just telling the story wrong. Regardless, Kathy bought me a five dollar disposable camera, and he really didn’t have to be such a twat waffle about the whole situation. I’m sure he has no recollection of me–though we may never know exactly how (other than reputable athletic ability and an unprecedented presence at the University of Tennessee), he’s seemed to make a career out of the sport and has probably met too many people to count. But when people watch his Saturday Night Live skit of him working with United Way and a bunch of children, only to physically and verbally abuse them, people giggle because they think, Oh Peyton, you would never talk to children that way. Well guys… Peyton would… Peyton did.

So, I eventually decided to do the fantasy football league. My team’s name is “Peyton Manning Sucks,” and I plan on filling the necessary positions with people that have really cool names. But most of all, I want this fantasy league to be vindication. I do care about winning… not over the other participants, but over Peyton and the ghost of that seven year old who was totally screwed over by one of the most inflated egos to ever grace the beautiful green grass of Neyland Stadium. I wanted a hero, and I got Mr. Manning. I would have even taken that alcoholic, Tyler Bray as a class visitor before Peyton Manning. From that point on, I focused on heroes that exemplified the skills that I wanted to emulate, like Tina Wesson from Survivor (I will tell you the much more gracious, heartwarming story about meeting her later), or David Sedaris.


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