FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Peyton Manning was hesitant to heap praise on his young receivers this season. It was obvious. No matter how outstanding rookie Austin Collie or second-year pro Pierre Garcon played in a game, Manning almost always tried to temper the enthusiasm.
On more than one occasion this season, during on-the-field postgame interviews with network TV reporters, Manning tried to rein in the praise for his young teammates. When acknowledging a showing by one of the youngsters, he often would invoke the name of Reggie Wayne, noting that the veteran wideout's presence helped create the success of the younger players.
Even in his initial Super Bowl media session on Monday evening, before uttering the words "Austin" or "Pierre," he noted the great job that WR coach Clyde Christensen did in developing them. In the next sentence, Manning praised Wayne for the influence he had on the Collie and Garcon.
But on Tuesday, during the Colts' Media Day interview session, Manning couldn't help but break his own rules. How could he not? The pair had monstrous performances in the AFC championship game. Garcon ripped the Jets for 151 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches, and Collie contributed a dazzling seven receptions for 123 yards and a score.
Manning was downright effusive about what the neophyte receivers have meant to the club and offered his thoughts on why he believes they've been so successful.
"Guys like Austin and Pierre, they've been excellent when it comes to preparation all season long," said Manning, ignoring his normal instinct to hold back on the compliments. "Austin's a film watcher. Austin's in there on Tuesday watching film. I guarantee he'll be at the hotel watching film as soon as we get back. As a player that has an appreciation for studying film and doing the little things, I really value what Austin's brought to our team this year, and it's going to make his career very special."
Manning noted that in the later stages of the season, he no longer viewed Collie as a kid who was drafted into the NFL just nine months ago.
"There's a fine line there. The truth of it is, we don't really treat him like a rookie," Manning said. "We don't really allow him, 'Hey, you're young. We'll let you make this mistake.' Because we're going to say, "Hey, you're in the NFL. You're a big boy now. You're a grown man. This is what we expect you to do.' Is it fair? Probably not. But it's the way it is. And he's been great about that. He doesn't make excuses. He doesn't say, 'It's too much.' He says, 'Hey, I should have known that. I'll try to do better next time.' That's all you want in a guy, that it matters to him, it means something to him. He feels bad when he does something wrong. You understand that's going to happen. So I really appreciate his attitude."
Manning admitted that away from the glare of television cameras and out of earshot of reporters, he will counsel and encourage his young targets.
"As an older player, I do put my arm around him sometimes and say, 'Hey, you're doing good, you're doing good.' I try to keep him humble. I try to limit his interviews. It's going to be hard to do this week. I can't keep my eye on him all the time this week. But I try to keep him humble. But he's got a good attitude. He loves football. He loves the game. And you watch him block out there, you watch he and Pierre block. Any receiver that's blocking well loves football. And I appreciate that."
Wayne eagerly joined Manning in the Media Day Collie-Garcon lovefest, heaping praise on the young duo.
"They've been big for us," Wayne said. "They've stepped up to the plate all year, making things happen. They work so hard. They want to do well. Every time you see them in meetings, they're taking notes and doing whatever it takes to be good. That's all you can ask for, guys that take time out of their busy schedule and put all the focus into watching film and going on the field and making things happen. They've shown up for us. One thing about them is they've been pretty healthy all year and they've been able to have an opportunity to make things happen, so we're going to need them one more time this year."
For his part, Collie is thankful to have earned the trust of Manning and acknowledges playing for a demanding quarterback like the one he does has helped him achieve success so early in his career. He believes both he and Garcon set the tone for such contributions this season all the way back in training camp.
"I think we both showed (we could contribute) during training camp, and with our hard work," Collie said. "Pierre and I take it seriously, that we both wanted to come in and contribute, especially with what happened with Anthony (Gonzalez) when he got injured. We made sure that there wasn't that much of a drop-off. You always have to prepare just in case something like that happened, and it did."
It all comes back to the preparation that Manning noted in the first place. You can be sure that Manning will stay on his young receivers well into the future, likely resorting back to his more measured approach when it comes to compliments after the Super Bowl hoopla passes. And it's a safe bet that approach will pay off for Collie and Garcon — and the Colts — as they continue their NFL careers.