Arians didn’t want to see Manning try to press on for another year, try to grasp at another season like some of his peers have done in the past.
“Having loved Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas, I was scared he was going to the (Los Angeles) Rams and look like them at the end when they could hardly walk anymore and they still played,” Arians said Monday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, a local Phoenix sports radio station.
“It comes to all of us, but the mind never diminished. The ball was going to the right spot all the time. He still could get them in the end zone when he needed to.”
It was Manning’s mind that kept Arians busy during the three seasons they worked together in Indianapolis.
Arians was the Colts quarterbacks coach from 1998-2001, a time frame that coincided with Manning’s first three NFL seasons. If the quarterbacks were meeting for an hour, Arians said he’d have to have three hours of work prepared because Manning digested the information so quickly. It led Arians to nickname Manning “The Piranha.”
“Coaching him was probably the hardest job I’ve ever had in that keeping his mind busy,” Arians said. Those poor other second and third quarterbacks, they couldn’t write fast enough.”
Arians added: “I could never get him enough information, whether it was about the opponent or our game plan or anything else.”
But Arians knew what he kind of person he was getting before Indianapolis drafted Manning.
During a pre-draft interview in 1998, Manning showed up with a “notebook full of questions,” Arians described. Among them was one about the Indiana tax code.
“I remember thinking, ‘Who interviewed who here?’” Arians said. “He’s an absolutely tireless worker on the fundamentals.”
While they were together in Indianapolis, Arians perfected Manning’s high release as well as small fundamentals that he still sees the 39-year-old use today -- 18 years after they first worked together.
But there’s a side of Manning that Arians saw long before the quarterback put his wit and humor on display for America on “Saturday Night Live” or on the Nationwide Insurance commercials.
“You see some of that funny side now,” Arians said, “but this was one of the best practical jokers I have ever seen.”
When Arians heard the news Sunday that Manning would officially retire, he said he was “kind of” happy for Manning but sad for the league.
“I was proud to have him as a quarterback but I’m more proud to have him as a good friend,” Arians said. “I wish him nothing but the best with whatever’s ahead in the next chapters.”