Rivalries are a quick way to distort the character of football players and coaches. Fans - myself included - can become so emotionally involved in the heat of a battle that it’s easy to forget these are real men with real hearts, personalities, and families. It’s just like judging any public figure - when all we have to go off of is how that person is perceived in the media, it can be easy to allow the cliche “perception is reality” to take over.
One act of kindness that hit me hard with this principle was performed by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning, gearing up for his fourth Super Bowl, is quintessential NFL royalty. He comes from a talented bloodline and dominated the game in his prime.
When you aren’t a fan of his team, he is easy to dislike. After all, it’s football.
Then a month ago, I was made aware of a note he wrote to a family I have come to know well over the past year. The Carr family - Tammi, Jason, CJ, and Tommy - lost five-year-old Chad to Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) in November. DIPG is an inoperable brain tumor with a prognosis of 9–12 months. It most commonly strikes at the age of six and, to date, has left no survivors.
The Carr family is well known primarily because of Chad’s grandfather, Lloyd, former University of Michigan head football coach. Manning met father, Lloyd, and son, Jason, at the University of Michigan during a recruiting visit. He chose to attend Tennessee, but memories of his visit to Ann Arbor were brought up when he saw an ESPN feature that aired November 28, 2015, on the life of five-year-old Chad.
Chad had passed away five days earlier after a 14-month fight with DIPG. The family announced he had gained his angel wings along with an image of Chad cradled in his daddy’s arms.
The image moved Peyton to penning a note.
“I am very sorry for your loss,” he wrote. “Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers during this time. ‘Blessed are those who mourn for thy will be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4)
“I watched the ESPN special on your son Chad. His courage and fighting spirit is inspirational. Jason, I believe we met years ago on my visit to Michigan. Please tell your dad hello and that I am thinking of him as well.
“May God’s peace be with all of you. Sincerely, Peyton Manning.”
So today is the tale of two great ChadTough men ... both winners in our books. Peyton Manning took the time to write us a personal note after Chad passed away. Sad for Tom but happy for Peyton. It's bigger than a game and we are grateful that they are both #ChadTough!! Second round starts tomorrow so don't forget to continue To vote. Thanks so much for getting us into round 2 with the lead! Www.espn.com/Infiniti #nfl #broncos #sb50 #peytonmanning @broncos
When I first heard that this note existed, I thought it was nice. I assumed he had someone write up a message of condolence to the family upon seeing the special.
Then, when I saw the note yesterday upon posting it to social media, I was absolutely, unequivocally, moved. He wrote the note himself. I know this shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. This is Peyton Manning. A man of his stature could easily ask someone to send flowers on his behalf or say something publicly in the media that would ultimately make its way back to the family.
But he didn’t.
He took the time to scrawl a note on a notecard and mail it to the family in their time of grief to let them know he was thinking about them.
I think there is an important lesson to be taken from this. When we look at NFL players, we shouldn’t automatically assume they are arrogant, full-of-themselves superstars. We should assume they are real people with real hearts and real emotions.
After all, if NFL royalty can do something so incredibly moving by any human standard, so can the other countless players in the league.
And you know what? They probably do.