Being a backup quarterback in the NFL is one thing, but being Peyton Manning’s backup quarterback is a whole different story. Jim Sorgi assumed this unique role after being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round of the 2004 NFL draft. Sorgi spent six seasons behind Manning before retiring in 2010 after his short stint with Peyton’s brother in New York ended with a shoulder injury. Today, Sorgi splits his time between serving as the radio color commentator for the Colts and running his durable medical equipment company, Sorgi Sports.
Sorgi has remained friends with Manning, and was among the select group who Manning opted to inform of his decision a couple of days ago. With the news now official and the retirement press conference concluded, Sorgi talked to SI.com to reflect on his experience as Manning’s backup, including the most important lesson he learned, and shared what he’d like to see Manning do next.
Melissa Jacobs: What were your emotions watching Peyton’s retirement press conference?
Jim Sorgi: It was sad, to be honest. As a former player, we want to see the game do well and whenever you see a figure such as a Peyton Manning retire it’s a little sad because you’re not going to see the Brady-Manning rivalry, you’re not going to see someone step on a field who has a chance to break a record every time. It’s hard to see some of these older guys who have done it so well for so long winding down their careers. It’s sad to see that generation come to an end.
MJ: Describe the first time you met Peyton.
JS: My first memory was walking in the locker room. I remember walking in seeing him, and he came up and introduced himself. I remember not being able to get a word out and him saying something like, “Don’t about worry it; we’ll have plenty of time to talk later. We’ll be spending a lot of time together.” He made it really easy.
MJ: What is the most impressive thing about Peyton’s work ethic?
JS: He expected a lot from his coaches, the team, his teammates, but you knew as a teammate that what he was asking you to do, he was doing the same thing. He was putting in the time.
He came to work to every day ready to go all in. That’s hard to do, especially when you do something for so long, the routine can become stagnant, but I think he liked knowing what the routine was going to be and how the routine was going to work. Because sometimes he set the routine. He set how things like meetings and practices were going to go. You knew he was leaving the complex and getting back into the film at home.
MJ: What was a typical day at practice with Peyton?
JS: He was team guy first. We’d always a have a quarterback meeting at the beginning of the day and he never started the meeting without all of us being there. He wanted to meet as a team. We would sit at our lockers until he’d say we go. Then after our meetings, we’d go to a walkthrough and he’d take every snap of the walkthrough and have lunch, meet again, and go to the practice.
I’m sure it changed a little when he got older but when I was with him, he took every rep of practice. If he didn’t get that snap in practice and then had that look in the game, he might miss something and he was never going to miss something.
MJ: Was it hard being Peyton’s backup?
JS: The hardest part about being Peyton’s backup was knowing if something did happen—if he had to come out of a game or miss extended periods of time—that the expectation is that you had to go out there and win. I tried not to put any undue pressure on myself because I knew that the way we were preparing made me prepared to play if I ever needed to. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to go on the field and do it like him, as seamless as ‘check this, check that,’ get us out of bad plays and into good plays, but the fact is I had to win. It could be ugly, but I had to win.
MJ: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from Peyton?
JS: Don’t take it for granted. I had a seven-year career; he had an 18-year career. Everyone that ends up playing the game at some point wishes they could go back and play another game, another season. You start to take the fact that you’re playing in the NFL for granted. He never did that. He always thought that he was lucky to be in the NFL. He always thought that he was lucky to be a starting quarterback and he never took any day, any season, any game for granted. That’s something that I wished I would have learned a little sooner and played a little longer. Just enjoy the monotony of a season instead of thinking, “Oh my god, here we go again.” That’s what he was so good at, just enjoying himself and playing a sport for his career. He never took it for granted.
MJ: What’s one thing about Peyton we don’t know?
JS: He’s one of those guys who works hard and when he’s not working, he loves hanging out with his teammates and having a good time. Everyone sees him as so serious but he is a jokester. I can tell you about tons of pranks he used to pull.
MJ: Oh, please share a good prank.
JS: There are tons from camp. I remember we’d be at camp and these coaches would get golf carts. We had this little pond at Terre Haute where we used to have camp and some how, some way someone’s golf cart ended up on a floating raft in the middle of the pond. Don’t ask me, I can’t really confirm or deny how it got out there.
Peyton knew when to have to work, but he also wanted to have fun. Every Sunday night we’d watch Entourage at camp, just things like that. Having fun was important.
MJ: Where does Peyton fall on the list of all-time greats?
JS: He’s the greatest of all time. In my mind, what I’ve seen him do for a team, for an offense, and for a defense for that matter, and what he was able to do under center, in the gun, getting in and out of plays, I don’t think there’s anybody better. From what I’ve seen Peyton do on a day-to-day basis, [how he] put the time and work in and [was] able to take it and put it on the field, and how much he was able to make his teammates better no matter the situation...he was always prepared. I know I’m biased but I do think he’s the greatest ever.
“I think the world would be amazed by what goes on in that head of his.”
MJ: What do you think he’ll do next?
JS: I have no idea. There are so many avenues he could go into. I can’t see him coaching but I would say it’s a possibility to see him in ownership or management of a team. I would really love to see him on a weekly basis analyzing games or teams and just sharing his knowledge that he didn’t want to give too much of while he was playing. I think the world would be amazed by what goes on in that head of his.