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Tony Dungy on Peyton Manning statue: ‘I think it’s fitting’

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy next to head coach Tony Dungy and is wife, Lauren, and CBS sports broadcaster Jim Nantz after winning the Super Bowl XLI 29-17 over the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Peyton Manning will stand a few yards away as a larger-than-life, bronze statue of himself is unveiled on the north plaza of Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday afternoon.

He’ll fidget, collect his thoughts and finally, emotionally, insist the unique honor is a shared venture.

“I’m not totally comfortable with this whole statue thing,’’ Manning told FOX59, “but I’m incredibly honored by Jim Irsay’s gesture and generosity.’’

The roster of speakers for the 3 p.m. ceremony includes Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, former Governor and current Purdue president Mitch Daniels, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and three individuals who shared Manning’s transformational 14-year career with the Colts – Bill Polian, Tony Dungy and Jeff Saturday.

And anyone who knows Irsay realizes the team owner won’t be able to keep his thoughts to himself. As far as Manning is concerned, Irsay already has spoken volumes.

“As I told (chief operating officer) Pete Ward, ‘Just let Jim know he doesn’t have to say one word because his actions are speaking very loud and I am very honored and humbled by his generosity,’’’ Manning said.

Dungy hooked up with Manning in 2002 and enjoyed the ride for seven seasons. He had an up-close-and-personal view as Manning impacted a professional football team, central Indiana’s football landscape and a community.

If anyone insists on arguing whether erecting Ryan Feeney’s statue of Manning is appropriate, prepare to debate Dungy and a few of Manning’s former teammates.

“There are pictures up of a lot of people and great memories of a lot of people,’’ Dungy said. “Because someone feels the need to put a statue up, that tells you something.

“I think it’s fitting. He did so much to change the climate there in Indiana, to really put the Colts on the map. He had a lot to do with getting that stadium built. It was not a slam-dunk. Just being there, right place, right time, playing some great football helped out tremendously.’’

This from Reggie Wayne: “When you think of Peyton Manning, you think ‘legend.’ This dude is a legend. Yeah, he deserves a statue. It’s not far-fetched. This dude is the epitome of a professional – on the field, off the field. How can you celebrate his name? Shoot, build him a statue.

“It’s like getting your handprint in the star out there in California.’’

This from Edgerrin James: “That’s pretty cool, and he deserves it. I have not one thing to say bad about Peyton. He gave the city of Indianapolis, he gave the game his all. When you see somebody like that, you know football was his life. He loves the city of Indianapolis and he represents what it takes to be an NFL player. I’m happy for him to get that statue.’’

And this from Adam Vinatieri: “There’s not many of those kind of guys who come through football that grace the game. There are a lot of good players, don’t get me wrong. But there are only certain guys who are special. He was definitely special.’’

So much of the pre-ceremony talk has focused on the sustained excellence authored by Manning and his teammates. The parade of double-digit win seasons. The memorable games. The world championship.

But so many of Dungy’s fondest memories of Manning involve events that unfolded far away from the maddening crowds and dealt with Manning immersing himself in “the day-to-day fiber of the city.’’

One Thursday night during one of those 12-, 13- or 14-win seasons, Dungy and his staff had to stay late at West 56th Street. Their preparations for the upcoming opponent had yet to be completed.

One of Dungy’s sons, Eric, was a member of Park Tudor’s football team and had a game that night that dad would miss.

Suddenly, Dungy received a text. From Manning.

“He’s at the game and he tells me ‘Eric just got an interception,’’’ Dungy said. “He was filling me in on what was going on. I talked to Eric afterwards and he couldn’t believe Peyton was there with Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne.

“He knew I couldn’t be there. It was, ‘Hey, our coach can’t be there tonight because he’s working to help us. We’re going to go support his son.’ He was always doing things like that.’’

He was always reaching out, intent on making a difference.

“I appreciated the work ethic and everything he did to make us better on the field,’’ Dungy said, “but what impressed me more was going that step beyond and saying, ‘I’ve got a responsibility to more than just the NFL. I’ve got a responsibility to the fans and to the city.’

“That is as much of it as anything. That’s why I think people feel the way they do about him. I still run into people, probably once a month, and they’ll say Peyton Manning visited my dad or he wrote my dad a letter or he sent my mom a picture of he did this for my kids. It goes beyond football.

“I think that’s why you have statues built. If you just go to Super Bowls and become All-Pro and those kind of things, we are certainly going to respect that. This goes much beyond performance on the field.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.