Centers to the stars

"I can't point to a certain mannerism, but you recognize him from afar," he said. "I don't spend a whole lot of time living in the glory days, but I do think back fondly to those days. We had a good time."


RICHARD O'BRIEN, Manning's center at Isidore Newman High in New Orleans

Here's the best indicator of how under-the-radar the centers for Brady and Manning fly: Tony Reginelli, who coached at Isidore Newman for more than three decades, remembers everything. He can talk for 15 minutes about a practice from 25 years ago.

But on Saturday morning, when Reginelli took a call at his house in New Orleans, he was stumped. He could not remember who served as Manning's center in high school. He suggested calling Lee Zurik, a former Newman star who is now an investigative reporter for the local Fox affiliate. Zurik quickly responded, saying Richard O'Brien was Manning's first center in high school.

O'Brien now lives in Denver, and he doesn't have much of a memory of Manning being a taskmaster. See, O'Brien is two years older, and grew up with Peyton's older brother, Cooper. So he always knew Peyton as Cooper's little brother.

But he did remember a story that was so Peyton. When they were in high school, Dan Marino was doing commercials for Isotoner gloves. In the ads, Marino would give his linemen gloves, and all of Manning's line knew Marino's catchy slogan by heart: "Take care of the hands that take care of you."

Newman's linemen, who gave young Peyton a very clean pocket during his sophomore season in 1991, began to jokingly give the quarterback grief. They told Manning that they protected him better than the Dolphins protected Marino, so where was their gift?

Before the Greenies' first playoff game, Manning outfitted each of his linemen with the gloves.

"I think I still have mine," O'Brien said.

MANNY RAMIREZ, Manning's center for the Broncos, 2013

Before training camp, there was nothing about Ramirez that made outsiders believe he could handle the demands of his new job. Ramirez struggled at his natural position, guard, in 2012. But Manning always had confidence in him. Maybe he saw something in Ramirez during all the film he watched.

"He has just gotten better each week," Manning said after a practice last month. "He's played through a lot of injuries. It speaks to his toughness. He's one of the strongest guys on the team. I think people in this building understand with the sophistication of this offense just how difficult his job is. And he's just been outstanding."

Ramirez has spent much of his career defying his critics. He'd listen to people tell him he wasn't supposed to go to college because he's of Mexican American descent; he'd hear the talk that he wasn't in the same class as Koppen and former Broncos center J.D. Walton.

Even Nalen was surprised at how Manning and Ramirez got on the same page so quickly. He figures they've watched a lot of film together.

Shortly after the Broncos' victory Sunday, Manning passed by Ramirez's locker, shared a handshake and congratulated him, always taking care of the hands that protect him.

JEFF SATURDAY, Manning's center in Indianapolis, 1999-2011

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