Andy Dalton says Peyton Manning blazed a trail at the line of scrimmage for quarterbacks that came after him.
Peyton Manning's 18-year career hit 28-year-old Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton smack in his wheelhouse.
From beating his buddies in Madden games in the Houston suburbs with the Colts' version of Manning to beating the Broncos' version of Manning for real at Paul Brown Stadium, Dalton has had the full Peyton experience.
"If you can make your perfect quarterback and take traits from other people, I think you take Peyton's brain," Dalton mused Monday. "I don't think anybody chooses anybody else's brain."
When Manning announced his retirement Monday in Denver, he paid homage to Johnny Unitas, his sagacious predecessor with the Colts who defined the quarterback position in the middle of the 20th century. On Monday, Dalton paid homage to how Manning defined the position in his century. He grew up watching it and now he's a disciple of Manning's pre-snap reads.
"It's become a bigger part of the game," Dalton said.
It was Manning playing chess with the game that drew in a young Dalton. The sleight of hand at the line of scrimmage and the seemingly telepathic grunts ("Omaha, Omaha") that eased players into the right positions hooked Dalton. The hometown Texans were in the same division with the Colts, but Dalton wanted to be a Madden Manning and he would go to the Texans' games when the Colts were in town to see him.
"Growing up it was fun to watch football and see the control he had over the game," Dalton said. "It was fun to watch a guy that was able to change things, always getting them into good plays and make them have a chance to have success. Plus, you knew the Colts were going to throw the ball a lot and that made it fun."
While Dalton uncorked his MVP-like season in 2015, he was praised for his own work at the line of scrimmage and how he fried defense after defense with his laser reads at the line. He heard something in Manning's news conference that stuck in his mind.
"I feel like it's been a big part of my game," Dalton said. "He said a coach told him early on he was able to process a lot of stuff and have a lot of knowledge and react to it quickly. That's similar to what I've been told by coaches. I think what he was able to do has allowed me to do what I'm doing. I feel like that's helped me throughout my career."
The ante was upped when Dalton was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy the summer before his senior year at Texas Christian and he got to work with Peyton, his brother Eli, and father Archie.
"I didn't have a lot of interaction with him, but it was cool to be able to be around guys like that and talk about stuff not football," Dalton said.
Then came two games against the guy in the Madden game. In 2012 Dalton joined Carson Palmer (0-3), Jeff Blake (0-1), Akili Smith (0-1), Jon Kitna (0-1) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (0-1) as the losing quarterbacks in Manning's run to 8-0 against the Bengals.
In 2014 the Bengals ended the Peyton Pox with a Monday Night victory over the Broncos that qualified them for the playoffs, making Dalton 1-1 vs. Manning for all time. But in a cruel irony for Dalton, neither was healthy for what would have been the biggest game the two ever played.
When they spoke before the Dec. 28 Monday Night Game in Denver, the Bengals and Broncos were about to tee up what ended up being the game for the AFC's top seed. But Manning's comeback from foot problems was a week away and Dalton never got back from a broken thumb.
What Dalton remembers is that Manning wanted to tell him that Archie said hello.
"I'm sure he said, 'Good luck, hope you get back sooner than later.' That's what I would tell him," Dalton said. "How many times did I play him? Got one out of the two. I'll take it. Especially playing against a quarterback like that with a career like that.
"It's been cool," Dalton decided. "To follow his career, then play against him, and you connect a little bit."