It’s not every day that you get advice on such topics as achieving your best and overcoming adversity from a legendary NFL quarterback. But a sold-out crowd of 480 at the fifth annual Touchdown for Teach event, chaired by Carol and Mike Linn and DeeDee and Wallis Marsh, got to experience just that when Peyton Manning took the stage at the River Oaks Country Club ballroom.
Despite some grumbling by guests about tight security measures both at a VIP pre-event and inside the ballroom (a sign warned "no cell phone photos with Manning, no videos, no autographs"), it was all quickly forgotten as executive director Kelly Krohn warmly welcomed everyone to the fundraiser. Susan Sarofim, who with Mary Yenik co-founded Touchdown for Teach, eloquently spoke about the importance of the organization. H-E-B Houston president Scott McClelland charmed the crowd as he thanked the nonprofit for honoring him with a special award for his longtime support.
And Manning, a five-time NFL Most Valuable Player, 14-time Pro Bowler, and the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams (Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 and Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos 2016), downright captivated the audience when he took part in a question-and-answer session with former Houston Oilers running back and sports broadcaster Spencer Tillman.
Questions covered a variety of topics, from career experiences to how important mentors are in life. We picked up a few pointers from Manning along the way.
On the topic of mentors, Manning gave an example on the importance they played during his career. "At no point should we ever think that we have it all figured out and don’t need to be mentored and coached. Eli (Peyton Manning's brother, Eli Manning, quarterback for the New York Giants) and I had a common coach, now the head (football) coach at Duke University, David Cutcliffe. Every offseason, we would go back to him and he would coach us, like we were 18-year-old freshman, on the most basic, mundane fundamentals of playing quarterback.
"You might ask, ‘Why does a 14-year NFL veteran need to learn how to take a snap?' The little things matter. If you ever think they don’t, that’s when you’ve got to worry about your game beginning to slide."
Manning's career achievements, including being named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated in 2013, didn't come without a lot of hard work and planning, he said.
“Preparation is where I felt like I could get a little bit of an edge on the competition. I wasn’t going to out throw everybody. And I wasn’t going to out run anybody. But I thought that if I could maybe know where they were going to go before the ball was snapped, it would give me a little bit of edge.
"When I was in high school my dad gave me a quote by a great coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chuck Noll, ‘Pressure is something you feel when you don't know what you're doing.’ It applies to school, football, business, and life. And it was my goal. I was going to know what I was doing.
"Did I get nervous before a game? Absolutely. It means you care. It means it matters to you. Did I ever feel pressure? No, because I did everything I could to get ready for that game. And that’s what gave me peace of mind at night.”
What does it really take to be great? According to Manning, four things.
“Having ability is certainly a part of it. Having a strong work ethic is important. Then you have to have a passion for and really love what you’re doing. Eli and I used to say, and we would never tell the owners of the Broncos, Giants, or Colts this, but we would have played for free. We loved it that much.
"And the fourth thing, which might separate the average from the good from the great, is a feeling of accountability. People are counting on you. When you get drafted ... they always ask you, ‘What are you going to do with this money you just made?’ My answer was, ‘I’m going to go earn it.’”
Manning was not without his share of challenges in his career. Upper body atrophy led to three surgeries in 2011, knocking him out for the season, costing his job with the Colts, and leaving him to wonder if he'd ever play again.
“It was the greatest adversity I ever faced professionally. When you go through adversity, you learn a lot about yourself. How you handle it is important. I never said, 'this isn’t fair.’ I tried to have a good attitude about it. I had to learn to play football in a new physical state. I couldn’t throw the football the same way I used to. But I was pretty flexible and I was not stubborn. I had to change teams, but I got play four more years. I feel like I passed that test.”
The evening raised a record breaking $1.1 million for Touchdown for Teach, which works to give educators in low-income school’s strategies in de-escalation and conflict resolution. The nonprofit will net the entire amount thanks to Fayez Sarofim, who generously underwrote the entire event.
Seen in the crowd were Alice and Keith Mosing, Hallie Vanderhider and her son Michael Vanderhider, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Soraya McClelland, Lori Sarofim, Raye White, Gary Petersen, Bobbie Nau, Dr. Sippi and Ajay Khuran, Pierce Bush, Fady Armanious and Bill Baldwin, Carolyn Faulk, Pat Studdert, Myra Wilson, Robin Simons, Jo Ann Petersen, Gaye Lynn and Stuart Zarrow, Margaret Alkek Williams and Jim Daniel, KHOU meteorologist Chita Craft and her husband, Lane Craft, Shelley and Tracy Ludwick, Philamena Baird, Sean Pendergast, Becca Cason Thrash and John Thrash, Diane Lokey Farb, Vivian Wise, Donna and Tony Vallone, and Leisa Holland-Nelson.