Lightning & memories of a 17-year-old phenom

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpg

I wrote this during NBC’s extended NFL pre-game show last night. I never miss a chance to watch Peyton Manning play, and I never get tired of it. As you surely know by now, he threw a record-tying seven touchdowns last night.

So I am sitting here watching three presumably intelligent men, including Super Bowl champion coach Tony Dungy, stand out on the field holding umbrellas babbling during a lightning delay….

Yes, I know these three men are paid a bucketload of money to stand out there and babble while the scoreboard says there is severe lightning in the area, enough to delay the start of the first game of the NFL season.

Which tells us: Even the NFL, with all its billions, cannot control Mother Nature.

And now they just showed a clip of Peyton Manning, at 37, and I thought back to Peyton Manning at 17.

When Peyton Manning was a senior at Newman High in New Orleans and the most highly recruited high school football player in the USA, my newspaper sent me down to the Crescent City to do a piece on him. After all, he was Archie’s son. After all, he included Ole Miss in the list of the three final schools he was considering.

Jack Wilkinson, my buddy from the Atlanta newspaper, wanted to do the same type story I was doing, so Peyton agreed to an interview with both of us over lunch. We met him at the Mannings’ house on First Avenue in Garden District and we let Peyton choose the restaurant.

He not only chose Uglesich on Barronne Street, he drove us in his SUV and navigated the back streets of New Orleans like an old pro.

We got to Uglesich, one of the great, old New Orleans restaurants (gone but never forgotten), and were greeted warmly by Anthony Uglesich, the owner. We sat down and ordered. Peyton chose the soft-shell crab po boy, and suggested we do the same. Of course, we did.

We all had Bargs root beers and french fries on the side, and then we started asking a 17-year-old high school senior question after question.

And I’ll make a long story short: We, meaning Jack and I, two veteran sports writers, were dumbfounded by Peyton’s intelligence, his manner and, most of all, his maturity,

As Jack told me later that day, “I felt like I was interviewing a 35-year-old, 12-year NFL veteran.”

I did, too.

And now, if this lightning will end, we’ll get to watch Peyton Manning, a 37-year-old, 12-time Pro Bowler, play the first game of his 16th NFL season.

I just wish I had a Uglesich soft-shell po boy to watch it with.

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