All too often, we fail to recognize greatness in its own time.
When something is right in front of our face, the image — and the greatness — can become blurred. Happens all the time, really. During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh only sold a handful of his paintings — frequently in exchange for food. He died nearly penniless. In the years following his death, his paintings would sell for millions of dollars.
His contemporaries missed out on Van Gogh’s greatness.
Sometimes, though, we are smart enough — or, in many more cases, lucky enough — to both witness and appreciate true greatness in its prime. When that happens — when greatness doesn’t merely pass us by with a light brush across the cheek — we truly are blessed.
I got the opportunity to interview recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning once in my career. It was August of 1998 and the Indianapolis Colts were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game at the now-demolished Riverfront Stadium.
It was Manning’s rookie year in the league and my second year at the Troy Daily News. Although many had already tabbed Manning a star based on his college career and his considerable football pedigree as the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, there still were those who questioned whether his skills would translate into NFL success — and whether another quarterback named Ryan Leaf would have been the smarter choice for the Colts.
I still remember every detail about that magical night in Cincinnati … although not for the reasons you might guess.
Just a few days earlier, I had started dating a young lady I had met earlier that summer. In the days after we had started dating, she was pretty much all I thought about. She trumped everything else in my life at that point.
Much to the amusement of my good friend and colleague Bill Begley, I spent much of that Bengals-Colts game scribbling the initials “MRO” with a fine-point green pen in my notebook, then drawing little hearts around the initials. At various points, I vaguely remember watching some plays from the football game.
After the game, I interviewed Manning (along with a fleet of other reporters … it wasn’t a one-on-one) and wrote a column about him as he began his career.
Manning and I both remained in our chosen professions the past 18 years — and we’ve both have seen our fair share of successes and bumps along the way. It hasn’t always been easy for either of us.
That being said, Manning has gone on from that preseason game to win two Super Bowls, win five MVP awards and set all sorts of NFL records. He’ll be a unanimous choice for the NFL Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible.
Earlier this week, Manning announced his retirement from the NFL, bringing an end to one of the greatest careers in NFL history. I’ll never forget that night in Cincinnati — although very little of it has to do with any passes Manning may have completed that night.
When it comes to seeing and appreciating Manning’s greatness in its time, I completely missed the boat.
I would however, recognize just how great that young woman with the initials “MRO” was … and is. I saw greatness, recognized it and knew I could never possibly let it go. Three years after that football game in which I missed out on my chance to see Peyton Manning’s birth as a football legend, I would marry that young lady.
We are still together today. When comparing my life with Manning’s … I think I got the better end of the deal.
It’s a good thing I know greatness when I see it.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong