If Peyton Manning Can Fail in Front of 100+ Million People, What Are You Afraid Of?

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on February 6, 2014 • views: 448

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
~Samuel Beckett

I’m not really a football fan, but I am a fan of the Denver Broncos. I have fond memories of gathering around the television with my family to cheer them on at Sunday games. My mom often bought Bronco gear for my three brothers and me. I still own a denim vest with the horse logo embroidered onto the pocket. It’s got to be over fifteen years old now.

So it pretty much goes without saying that last Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a huge disappointment. After such a great season, to see the team fall so completely on their faces was a painful thing to watch.

Yet when a reporter asked quarterback Peyton Manning if he was embarrassed at his and the team’s performance, Peyton got a little irritated. Some may say he was in denial, or imagine he was just trying to save face. I say, the guy just earned more of my respect.

After all, if Peyton Manning can fail and fail BIG in front of an estimated 108-plus million people, what do you and I have to fear?

Trembling in My Boots

We all know what it feels like to be humiliated in front of other people. Some of my experiences with that involve music. I’ve played the French horn since I was in fifth grade, and often sat first chair in honor bands and later, in community orchestras.

In case you aren’t familiar with orchestra playing, first chair French horn is one of the scariest places to be. We often have solos where the whole group tones it down just so we can be heard. Usually we have to come in on an extremely difficult high note, often after fifty or more bars of rest, when our lips have gotten cold, dry, and stiff.

Add to that the pure difficulty of playing the instrument. One wrong breath, misplaced touch of the tongue on the mouthpiece, or slightly off tension in the lips, and the wrong note comes out—and everyone hears it.

Other brass players—trumpets, particularly—know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen manly men shaking in their boots before a big solo, with sweat running down the sides of their faces. I’ve seen colleagues reduced to tears after a botched melody. And I certainly have messed up more than a time or two myself.

The difference between Peyton Manning and me? I was embarrassed, and embarrassed big time. Enough to consider never playing the instrument again. I’ve always gone back to it because of my love for music, but often I felt I didn’t really deserve to. After all, I had failed. Surely someone else would be more qualified?

The Word “Embarrassing” is an Insulting Word

Yahoo Sports ran an article after the Super Bowl detailing the interaction between this one reporter and the Broncos quarterback. You can see the video on the same link. I recommend you watch it, because there’s something truly admirable in Peyton’s demeanor. (At least, I think so.)

He responds to the interviewer’s question about the “embarrassing” loss by saying it wasn’t embarrassing at all, and that he “would never use that word.” He stumbles over his response, visibly moved, and says, “There’s a lot of professional football players in the locker room that put a lot of hard work and effort into being here, and into playing in that game, and uh, the word ‘embarrassing’ is an insulting word to tell you the truth.”

You can tell by his expression and firm tone of voice that he’s not kidding.

What a lesson for me and anyone else who’s ever been too hard on themselves after a failure. Whatever you may think of Denver’s performance, you have to admire how Peyton so quickly restored respect to the team and himself with that one quote—or more accurately, firmly corrected anyone who mistakenly believed it was lost in the first place. The Broncos were the AFC Champions, after all. Not for a second did Peyton allow this massive public loss to bring him down. He walked away with every bit of dignity, confidence, and personal power that he possessed before the game started.

Well, he’s Peyton Manning, you may say. One of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. Still, the score was 43 to eight.

I’m not saying the loss didn’t bother the team leader. He was obviously emotional about it. Of course the game meant a lot to him. From what I’ve seen of the guy, it was clear he felt badly for the way in which his own performance let his team members down.

But I’m going to remember that 24-second video clip for a long time. The next time I fall on my face, I’m going to do my best to channel Peyton Manning.

We all fail, even the best and brightest of us. Most of us don’t have to do it in front of 100-plus million people. So what are we so frightened of?

Failures don’t matter. How we respond to them does.

What did you think of Peyton’s answer?  

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