INDIANAPOLIS -- It's happened so many times, I can't even remember the first. I'll walk into a party, or a bar, or someone will just stop me on the street. And, next thing I know ...
"Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look like Peyton Manning?"
I'll admit, I do see some resemblance. But not as much as others. People at the office are always bringing it up. Even my friends call me Peyton sometimes. And, to be honest, I don't really mind it. I certainly wouldn't file a lawsuit over it. Heck, if I was going to pick someone to look like, the two-time NFL MVP would probably be pretty high on my list.
OK, maybe I'd pick Tom Brady ahead of him. But still.
And, for the record, I think Peyton's actually a pretty decent-looking guy.
And that's about all I'm going to say about that.
Anyway, when our newest editor at Page 2, Thomas Neumann, pegged me as Peyton, that was the final straw. I was headed to Indianapolis. My mission? To see if it's really true. To see if I could fool a city.
To see if I could "be" Peyton Manning.
I spent the two-hour flight from New York City to Indianapolis Friday morning contemplating my assignment. It's definitely the strangest one I've had at ESPN. I'm used to interviewing athletes. Now I'm spending a weekend trying to look like one of them? And Halloween was two weeks ago!
Nevertheless, I brought a costume with me, just in case. A Peyton Manning jersey? Nah, are you kidding? That's way too obvious! Instead I bought a University of Tennessee cap and long-sleeve T-shirt. Figured that was subtle, clever even. Something Peyton might wear out and about.
My plane touched down in Indy just after 10:30 a.m. I felt like I needed to get in character. So as I walked though the jetway of Gate D1, I donned my Tennessee hat for the first time. I proceeded to the rental-car area and hopped on a National/Alamo bus.
The driver, Jim, and I immediately started talking. Jim asked me what I was in town for, and I coyly told him the Colts. Then he said, "Well you must be a big Peyton fan, wearin' that Tennessee hat."
So I leveled with him. Told him lots of people back home think I look like Peyton, and I was in Indy to see if it's really true. His reply? "Ahhh. Well, I'll tell you who really looks like Peyton is my good friend Danny. He's only 5-foot-8, but he's a carbon copy."
Huh? Please ... 5-8? Peyton is 6-5. At least I'm 6-2!
Then I asked Jim if he thought I looked like Peyton Manning. He took a long look while we were stopped at a red light. "Ehhhhh. Maybe in the complexion, a little."
Well, things were off to a roaring start.
Before I got off the bus, Jim had a few final words of advice. "So you're gonna try to look like him? Well, I heard that he wears his jersey around. Reason being everyone will assume it's a fan if he's wearing his jersey."
So much for my "clever" strategy.
Slightly demoralized, I drove to my hotel, where I tried to formulate a plan for the day. I asked myself, what would Peyton do? I got a little help at PeytonManning.com, but not much.
With my Tennessee hat on, I headed for lunch. The first place I found was Houlihan's, right in the center of downtown. It was pretty packed, so I figured it'd be a good place to be spotted. There was a long line to get a table, so I found a seat at the bar, ordered a cheeseburger and sat back, waiting for people to flock to me.
When I finished my cheeseburger 40 minutes later, I still hadn't talked to anyone besides the bartender -- and she clearly hadn't caught on. I made eye contact with a couple different people around the room -- but for all I know they were just wondering why I was wearing such an ugly hat (apologies to all you Tennessee fans). But then I felt an arm around my shoulder. And I knew I must have corralled my first victim.
"Hey dude, do you think I could borrow a piece of paper from your notebook there?" asked the man two seats down from me at the bar.
"Uh, yeah, no problem."
After that enlightening encounter, I headed out. I thought about seeing a movie -- Peyton did say he likes going to the movies -- but it was an unseasonable 70 degrees outside, and I couldn't bring myself to sit in a theater on such a nice day. Instead, I figured I'd wander around the downtown area for a while and see how many people would approach me.
I sauntered through the gigantic Circle Centre mall. Nothing. Spent several minutes roaming around the Colts Pro Shop. Nada. Even hung out on the steps of Monument Circle, a huge Indianapolis landmark. And it was like I was invisible.
After my productive day around town, it was time to get ready for the Pacers-Magic game. My editor and I had figured a Pacers game would be a great place for me to be spotted. I'd seen photos of Peyton at NBA games in the past. Surely this had potential.
I met my friend and Page 2 colleague, Mary Buckheit, outside Conseco Fieldhouse just before the 7 p.m. tip-off. She had graciously come to Indy to assist me in my quest. We had great seats -- not quite courtside, but only a few rows from the floor. And I was still wearing my Tennessee hat. But through the first half, I hadn't garnered any attention, not even any love on the Diamond Vision.
At halftime we did a slow walk around the entire concourse of Conseco. Tried to make eye contact with people. A Peyton interview was even being shown on the TV screens inside. But apparently I looked like just another Pacers fan ... wearing an orange hat.
The second half went pretty much the same. Then, as we were exiting Conseco, somebody finally yelled out to me.
"Hey, is that a Texas hat? I don't see the horns!"
And that pretty much summed up Day 1.
I awoke on Saturday morning with renewed vigor. Clearly Mary and I were going to have to be more proactive about this -- maybe even call an audible or two, Peyton-style.
The Tennessee hat hadn't done much for me on Day 1. So on Saturday I switched gears to ... drumroll please ... the Colts hat. And not just any old Colts hat, mind you. THE Colts hat. The one Peyton wears on the sideline. I'd ordered it online last week as well, just in case.
Would Peyton wear this hat out in public? Probably not. But if I was going to buy a Colts hat, that was the one I was going to buy.
With the Colts hat on, Mary and I grabbed some lunch at Smokey Bones, a barbecue joint downtown. Great food. Not so great fan interaction. I was greeted with absolute indifference, again. We clearly had to do more.
I decided I had to do something drastic. Something I rarely do
I had to put in the cell phone ear piece.
(When I got my latest cell phone, I was very excited. So I splurged on pretty much all the extras. Including the earpiece. Even though I rarely drive. I've literally used it about twice since I bought it. But pro athletes seem to always have them in their ear. So I figured I'd bring it to Indy, just in case.)
Because it was 30 degrees cooler on Saturday, Mary and I decided to do the movie thing. So we headed to the theater in the Circle Centre mall to buy tickets. Mary said she wanted to take a picture of me buying them -- maybe someone would ask her why she was taking a picture of a person buying movie tickets? And sure enough, when I started to walk over to her after buying the tickets, she was talking to someone. A security guard. But he started walking away when I got to her.
"What happened?" I asked Mary. She responded, "Uh, I think I just got a citation for taking your picture."
I was very confused ... until she handed me over a business card. According to the card, we had broken one of the Ten Commandments of shopping mall conduct.
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was nervous to be in a mall. But we forged on. We stopped in the Colts Pro Shop again, and I decided to take another look around. This time, I noticed that they had special Nerf-style footballs with Peyton's last name and number on them. I had to have one. In front of me on the checkout line was a father and his very young son. After a minute or so, the father engaged me in conversation
"Excuse me sir, but where did you get that Peyton Manning football?"
I was more than happy to tell him where ... and more than a little discouraged. Nevertheless, I bought my football and we moved on. Our next destination? Nordstrom. Mary wanted me to wander around looking at expensive jewelry and sunglasses, and she was going to try to get a saleswoman's attention and see if she could fool her.
So I wandered ... and wandered ... and wandered. Finally, I saw Mary trying on a watch, and I knew she had chosen her target. This thing was going down now. I stared intently at jewelry I had absolutely no clue about. And after a few moments, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the saleswoman check herself out in her counter mirror, and then speed over to me like a bullet.
"Can I help you with anything sir?" she said with a big smile.
I replied, "No thank you," and continued on to another display case. But I caught her checking me out several more times before I hooked back up, discreetly, with Mary in another area of the store.
"So what did she say?" I asked Mary, excitedly.
Mary said she told the woman that she thought I might be Peyton Manning. And the saleswoman responded, "Oh gosh, I don't know! I actually had a dream about him. Something with him and my store manager, on the floor. (Author's Note: What?????) I don't know. I just like the Colts 'cause I live in Indy. I wouldn't even know if that was him. I just dream about him. Oh my gosh!"
After Mary and I got done giggling, we moved on. I was definitely feeling a bit more confident. It was just about time to head back to the theater, but we both wanted to use the restroom first. As I was waiting for Mary outside the restroom, three young ladies walked by looking at me. They went a few steps, then turned and looked at me again. My heart skipped a beat. Come on. I desperately wanted to reel in my first big catch, but I also wanted to play it cool, so I only gave them a quick glance. They took a few more steps, and turned yet again. I looked away, but heard one of them say, "Do you want to ask him? What should we do?"
Last week, I was on the phone with my buddy Nic, who asked what my weekend plans were. I told him that I was Indianapolis-bound for a Kieran Darcy/Peyton Manning look-alike chronicle. Which prompted the shrewd inquiry, "They're flying you to Indiana to be the wingman for a faux Peyton?"
Yep. It's a good gig if you can get it.
So there we were, at the Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indy. The alleged Peyton M. was buying "Borat" tickets at the cinema and I was trying to stoke the fire in the lobby by suggestively snapping photos of him from afar. My flashbulb popped only a few times before I noticed a Rent-A-Cop beelining it right at me.
Perfect! I thought. This is it! He's coming over to protect Peyton from the menacing paparazzi! I hope he decks me and we wrestle for the Kodak!
He arrived in front of me toe-to-toe, with one hand on his hip and the other flying toward his breast pocket. Oh my gosh, badge and Taser! I thought, elated.
But instead, between two fingers he whipped out a small card and pointed it at my nose. "Ma'am, I'm going to have to present you with the code of conduct. We have several rules here at the Circle Centre and one is no photography or videotaping of any kind. I saw you taking pictures. That is not permitted. Here is the entire code."
I stood mouth agape, hands in the air, sneaks spread, before I began to blather, "But I thought it was Peyton Manning!"
"Sorry, ma'am, no photographs anywhere in the mall. It's right there on the card," he said as he walked away, with a disapproving shake of his head and not so much as a glance in Peyton's direction. But we did get into the movie. High-five!
The CCM Code of Conduct
I really thought I had them ... but then they turned around and walked away. When Mary came out, I started telling her what had happened. And as I was doing so, the three girls came walking by again! They looked me up and down, but again, they didn't say anything.
Darn, so close! Nevertheless, it felt good. We were clearly gaining momentum.
From there, Mary and I proceeded to the theater. What movie did we see? "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" of course. Would Peyton go see this movie? I honestly have no idea. But we laughed our heads off.
After that, I needed to make a quick wardrobe change. Our plan was to watch the big Tennessee-Arkansas football game at 7 p.m. For that special occasion, I was planning to rock not only the Tennessee hat, but that Tennessee long-sleeve T-shirt I had purchased as well.
I stopped back at my hotel to change, and then I met Mary at Champps, across the street from the hotel. Mary had already put her name on the list for a table for two. But I was feeling a little mischievous. So I decided to put my name in as well.
I planned to give my last name as Manning. I honestly wasn't sure what first name I was going to give. I asked the woman for a table for two. "And what is your first name sir?" she asked. I was flustered I was expecting her to ask for my last name first. I stammered "Um, John." Then she asked for my last name initial. "Uh M," I replied.
For some reason, Mary found this hilarious. Especially when we were seated eating dinner and we kept hearing the announcements. "This is the last call for John M., table for two." Oh well, I tried.
Anyway, we watched Tennessee get walloped by Arkansas, 31-14. And no one paid any attention to me whatsoever. Except for two "fellow" Tennessee fans who stopped and said something to me as they were walking by.
The first one, who was also wearing plenty of Tennessee garb, said, "Dude, I'm trying to cover up. It's bad."
The second one said, "This is ugly man. Bad, bad news."
You're damn right it was bad news! Two seemingly die-hard Tennessee fans engage me in conversation in a sports bar, in Indianapolis, with me wearing a Tennessee hat and a Tennessee shirt -- and the Peyton thing doesn't click? Come on!
It felt like we had hit rock bottom.
I awoke on Sunday with a feeling of desperation. The pressure was on. It was now-or-never time.
Mary and I met at high noon and proceeded to the big tailgate area in Pan Am Plaza near the RCA Dome. It seemed like everyone was having a blast. The beer tent was crowded, and there was a live band, as well as an inflatable castle for the kids.
Near the castle I made my first real new friend in Indianapolis. His name was Lucas. If his name had been Danny, I'd have sworn he was that guy my rental car bus driver was talking about on Friday, because this guy was a dead ringer for Peyton, much more so than me.
Lucas graciously agreed to pose for a photo, although he insisted on seeing the finished product on my digital camera before we parted ways. He was cool with the way the picture came out. And then his mom finished putting on his Velcro shoes.
I asked Lucas' mom if she thought I looked like Peyton. "Yeah, I definitely see a resemblance all right."
As Borat would say, great success! We were off to a good start. Next I decided I needed to test out my laser rocket arm. Several contemporaries of Lucas were on line at three football-throwing stations. Wanting a challenge, I picked out what looked like the hardest one.
The woman running the Piggy Pass station looked at me like I had hair growing out of my eyeballs. But she kindly let me take a few throws. I had to throw a small Nerf football through moving uprights into a large oval a whole nine inches away or so. And it only took me three tries!
Hey, I never said I had Peyton's skills.
From there, we decided to head over to the front of the RCA Dome, to scope out the scene. And we found Michael, who dubs himself the No. 1 Colts fan.
Mary did the honors. "Do you think my friend looks like anyone?"
Michael gave me a long, hard look. Then he chuckled. "Awww, who do people tell you, Stokley or something?"
Ouch. I thought I looked like the Colts' two-time MVP quarterback, and the team's No. 1 fan thinks I look like a third wide receiver who has only six catches this season? That one hurt.
I said to Michael that people tell me I look like Peyton.
"Oh yeah, sure," Michael responded, in about as unconvincing a tone as possible.
After that, Mary was going to take a photo of me cocking my arm back to throw my Manning football in front of the dome. When the crowd cleared for a moment, she snapped the shot. I felt ridiculous, to be honest. Especially when, as I brought my arm back and struck the pose, a group of Colts fans nearby shouted "Peyton!" It sounded pretty sarcastic. Afterward, I decided to confront the three guys.
I explained to them what I was doing in Indianapolis. "I heard you guys yell 'Peyton!' Did you yell that because you really think I look like him, or..."
"Yeah, you do look like Peyton!" one of them jumped in and said.
Then I finished what I was going to say. "...or did you just say that because of the goofy photo."
"Well, that too."
Mark, Lance and Kevin were really fun guys, though. In fact, Kevin even asked me for an autograph. He wanted me to sign his jersey. I wasn't sure which name to sign, but I had practiced imitating Peyton's signature on Saturday after seeing an autographed Peyton jersey in a memorabilia store, so I went with that.
And I gotta tell you, it felt damn good.
After we got done talking to the three wise men, it was game time! Mary and I went looking for a good spot to watch, and we ended up at The Pub, across the street from Conseco and just a few blocks from the dome. There was a pretty decent crowd in there, and two prime seats still open at the bar. Perfect.
Within seconds the bartender approached us. Mary and I ordered up a couple of Coors Lights, and then she said to me, "You know what, our bartender looks exactly like Charlie Villanueva!"
And she was right. It was uncanny. Bald, no eyebrows, the whole nine. He had Villanueva nailed. About halfway through our beers, Mary couldn't resist anymore.
"Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you that you look like..."
"...Charlie Villanueva," the bartender, whose real name is Carlos, said with a big smile. "I get it all the time. Since the kid was in high school. I wish I had his money, but..."
I feel you, Carlos. I feel you.
It was strangely comforting to meet another look-alike. I felt a real kinship with this fellow stunt double.
A few minutes later, Mary engaged him again. "Hey, Carlos, let me ask you, does my friend look like anybody to you?"
"Yeah, he looks a little like Peyton, definitely," Carlos responded. "In fact, when you guys first walked in, this girl down at the other end of the bar said to me, 'Hey, that guy looks a lot like Peyton!'"
Well, all right! We all had a good laugh, and soon after, the girl came over to tell me so herself. "I saw you and I was like, 'Why is Peyton at The Pub?'"
A good question indeed, especially when he's playing on TV at the same time.
Mary and I had a blast hanging out with Carlos and the Colts fans, watching Peyton and company squeak out a 17-16 win over the Bills to remain undefeated. We heard stories about places Peyton actually hangs out (St. Elmo Steakhouse and Palomino, to name two), where he lives (very close to The Pub, by Conseco), etc. etc. Carlos said that if we hung out for about an hour after the game, people would be going crazy over me. But alas, we had to head to the airport to catch our flights back home. We were both really sad to leave.
But at the same time, I was ready to go. It was kind of exhausting trying to "play" someone else for a couple of days. It was fun, don't get me wrong. I'm not going to file a lawsuit or anything. But you know what? I really like what I do, getting to report on the athletes and the games.
Yes, I guess I look like Peyton Manning -- at least some people think so. But I'm ready to go back to interviewing athletes, instead of impersonating them. I'm ready to go back to normal. I'm ready to go back to being good ol' Kieran Darcy.
And tomorrow I start working on my Eli impression.
Kieran Darcy is an editor for Page 2. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.