The four finalists invited to the 1997 Heisman ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City were Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss and Ryan Leaf.
The first three names will go down among the greatest in high school, college and NFL history. And the fourth may be the only quarterback capable of making Jamarcus Russell’s statistics sound good. Leaf went 4-17 as an NFL starter, throwing 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions after being drafted second overall.
Randy Moss was twice named First Team All-American at Marshall University, and the retired receiver will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio by the time Woodson and Manning arrive for their Hall of Fame inductions.
Who Are They Really?
For much of his career, Peyton Manning seemed like the NFL’s most successful dork, an uptight chef (and assistant coach) slicing defenses with his Ginsu blade. Teammates said he had a sense of humor, which became clear in his endorsements, and a couple of hilarious appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Charles Woodson has always been the epitome of cool. From the way he looks in a uniform to the way he speaks, hell, even tattoos look tasteful on Chuck, a man who leads by example.
Today’s young athletes are consumed by “swag”, a word seemingly invented solely to quantify the ethereal substance which emanates naturally (and tastefully) from Charles Woodson.
Manning married his college sweetheart from the University of Tennessee, while Woodson was married a few years ago. A Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis was named after the Manning family due to their undisclosed generosity, Woodson donated $2 million to his college alma mater’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Peyton Manning once said: “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
Charles Woodson once cited this Buddhist teaching: “Not even death should be feared by the man who lives his life wisely.”
Stars Are Born
Peyton Williams Manning was born on March 24, 1976 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father Archie Manning finished both third and fourth in the Heisman voting at Ole Miss before being taken second overall in 1971 by the New Orleans Saints, Archie was also a two-time NFL Pro Bowler. Peyton’s parents met at Ole Miss, where his mother Olivia was Homecoming Queen.
Charles Woodson was born October 7, 1976 in Fremont, Ohio (130 miles from Canton). Woodson’s father Solomon was an amateur boxer who separated from Charles’ mother Georgia when he was still an infant. Raised by his mom, the future “prototype corner” had clubbed feet, wearing leg braces constantly until he was 18 months, and then corrective shoes until he was four years old.
Friday Night Lights
Peyton played high school football at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, a private school. Manning threw for 7,200 yards and 92 touchdowns in three seasons and was named National Player of the Year as a senior. As “Archie’s son”, Peyton received a lot of publicity and was pressured to sign at Ole Miss, but the younger Manning ended up in Knoxville, enrolling at Tennessee in 1994.
Georgia Woodson wouldn’t allow her son to play varsity as a freshman at Ross High School, a public school in Hamilton. Charles was All-State in Ohio during each of his three varsity years. As a senior, he rushed for 2,028 yards, scored 38 all-purpose touchdowns, and was named both Ohio Player of the Year and All-American. He always dreamed of playing for the University of Michigan, and in 1995 Charles Woodson headed for Ann Arbor to play cornerback.
Peyton began his freshman year at Tennessee as a backup, but injuries saw him step in and win SEC Freshman of the Year after going 7-1 as a starter. Manning finished sixth in the Heisman race during his outstanding sophomore season. After a disappointing junior year (that began with the Volunteers ranked No. 2 in the country), Peyton still finished eighth in the Heisman voting.
A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Peyton was projected as the top pick in the 1997 NFL draft, but he decided to return for his senior year at Tennessee, giving him one final chance to win the National Championship and Heisman Trophy that had both eluded him and his father.
Charles Woodson started at corner in just his second game at Michigan, and ended the season as Big Ten Freshman of the Year. During his three years in Ann Arbor, Woodson caught three touchdowns, rushed for a pair of touchdowns, completed two passes, and snatched 18 interceptions. He returned one punt for a touchdown, and did so against Ohio State with Keith Jackson calling the game.
Peyton won several national awards as a senior, but an injury he sustained during the Volunteers’ victory in the 1997 SEC Championship game lingered into the Orange Bowl, where #3 Tennessee lost to the #2 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Woodson’s magical junior season was full of spectacular plays, ending in Pasadena with Michigan as undefeated National Champions and Rose Bowl winners, a year that also saw Charles Woodson become the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
The 1997 Heisman voting: Charles Woodson (1,815), Peyton Manning (1,543), Ryan Leaf (861) and Randy Moss (253).
Legends Of The Gridiron
The Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning with the top pick in 1998, Ryan Leaf was taken second by the San Diego Chargers, Oakland took Charles Woodson fourth, and the Minnesota Vikings grabbed Randy Moss at No. 21.
Random stats on Peyton & Chuck: Both have played in two Super Bowls, with each winning once. Manning is the four-time NFL MVP; Woodson earned Defensive Player of the Year once. Woodson’s been named All-Pro seven times to Manning’s six. Peyton may break nearly every passing record there is, Woodson has 55 career interceptions and 12 defensive touchdowns (his 12th came against the Broncos in 2011).
True legends at every level of our nation’s favorite game, born just seven months apart 37 years ago. But when the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders resume their rivalry on Monday Night Football, it will be just the fifth time these two have faced one another on a football field outside of Honolulu.
Whether God has seen fit to curse you with the horribly ugly Orange & Blue of the Broncos, or you’ve been blessed by the devil known as Al Davis to luxuriate in the unparalleled beauty of Silver & Black. Monday night at Mile High represents a chance to appreciate two of the greatest football players who have ever lived.
Manning behind center, gesticulating like his hands are on fire. Chuck casually pretending he’s not perusing Peyton’s every move.
Quarterback faces defensive back, great instincts meet supercomputer, the cool guy against the lethal nerd.
~ Charles Woodson vs. Peyton Manning ~