WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — A lanky 6-foot-5 man in a button-down, long-sleeve shirt and tie walked onto the field during Saints training camp on Sunday, bringing a mixture of fond and painful memories to veteran safety Roman Harper.
After a brief and friendly chat, Harper gave recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning a hug.
"I was still angry, because last time I saw him, confetti was going all his way," Harper, who spent the past two seasons with Carolina, said in reference to last season's Super Bowl that was won by Manning's Denver Broncos.
"He said we were even and we laughed about it," Harper added, alluding to the Saints' Super Bowl triumph over Manning's Indianapolis Colts to cap the 2009 season.
"At the end of the day you just tip your hat off to him and understand that we're all competitors. He was able to do it for 18 years in this league and be able to be so great for so long. It's just amazing that he gets to go out on top the way he did."
Saints coach Sean Payton has mentioned the possibility of adding a fourth quarterback to the roster during preseason and smiled at a lighthearted question asking whether that's why Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner and five-time NFL MVP, showed up.
In fact, Manning was attending the Grocery Manufacturing Association's leadership forum, also hosted by the luxury Greenbrier Resort, where the Saints are holding training camp for a third straight summer.
Manning was on a list of guest speakers for the conference that also included retired four-star Army general Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, and members of the Beach Boys.
"It just happened to time up with our camp," Payton said. "And it was good having him out here. You know, he had a chance just to be around our guys. And someone with the success he's had, it was good seeing him.
"One of his great traits is he likes being around players and this type of teaching atmosphere," Payton continued. "It was limited time because his commitments were across the street. But I'm sure it was a good break for him, and it was for us."
Manning was not available for interviews but released a statement on his visit through the Saints, saying he hadn't been to a Saints training camp since he was in high school in the early 1990s. He recalled attending a practice with his father, Archie, a former Saints quarterback who at that time was part of the club's radio broadcast team. During that practice, Manning threw passes to a couple members of the local media.
"That was actually the time I think I started to believe I could be a pretty good quarterback," Manning said in apparent jest. "That was a real major milestone for me, working out with the media at an NFL training camp. So it's fun to be back and it was great to see Drew Brees, who has been a longtime friend and an individual I have a great deal of respect for. And it was fun to be with him and the other quarterbacks.
"Obviously, it goes without saying but I have a lot of respect for Sean Payton and the job that he does," Manning added, noting that Payton attended his retirement party several weeks before training camp. "I really appreciated him coming out."
In addition to attending practice, Manning also dropped in on some team meetings Saturday evening.
As reserve quarterbacks Luke McCown and Garrett Grayson took a series of snaps during 11-on-11 drills, Manning and Saints star Drew Brees stood together, chatting. Tight end Coby Fleener couldn't help but become a little reflective at the sight of the two star QBs together.
"Seeing Peyton out here and seeing Drew out on the same field . it's still kind of mind-boggling to see that much awesomeness at quarterback," said Fleener. "And I'm super thankful to have Drew as mine."
When it was Brees' turn to get back under center for a few more snaps, one of his completions was a long touchdown pass over the middle to Fleener.
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Posted on Mon, August 1, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer