After keeping the diagnosis under wraps for nearly a decade the NFL finally told Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning he has Tourette’s syndrome.
The league’s biggest secret was first discovered in 2005 when Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy noticed Manning’s unusual behavior at the line of scrimmage. The symptoms began as a mere foot stomp, but as the years progressed Manning started shouting random words that had no meaning to the offense.
“What really tipped me off was when he started flapping his arms like a bird,” Dungy said. “That had no meaning to our offense and threw us off for a few games, but I told the rest of the offense to ignore him and we went on to have a pretty good season.”
Dungy invited Tourette’s specialist Beth Grundstad to a home game to watch Manning. Grundstad immediately noticed the symptoms and diagnosed the quarterback on the spot.
“Common symptoms of this syndrome are flapping the arms, hopping, touching other people, repeating words or phrases and barking among other things,” she said. “Peyton was doing all of those on almost every play. There was no question he was on the Tourette’s spectrum, but Tony asked me to keep it quiet because they were doing so well.”
The diagnosis reached the NFL’s front office sometime in 2008, but the higher-ups decided it was better for the game if Manning continued on the path he was on.
“Peyton was playing outstanding football and we couldn’t take away from him or the league,” executive Paul Cornston said. “As years went his tics became more frequent and we felt compelled to tell him. Finally, we decided that after he broke Brett Favre’s record we would break the news.”
Since 2008, several people have threatened to break the news to Manning. In 2011, Manning suffered a career-threatening neck injury from whipping his head back and forth. In 2014, as the Broncos made their way to the Superbowl, fans demanded to know exactly what “Omaha” meant, but Manning refused to give a practical answer.
“Omaha is a city in Nebraska,” he said with a stupid smile on his face.
Sadly, he was being dead serious.
After Manning threw his 510th career touchdown, coach John Fox finally sat Manning down, went over some film and broke the news.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, OMAHA,” Manning said. “APPLE, I thought I was changing the play at the line, but it turns out I was just slapping my linemen’s asses for no reason and, APPLE APPLE, yelling at people.”
With the diagnosis out in the open, coach Fox is worried about the impact it will have on the rest of the season. For years, defenses have been changing their schemes to counter Manning’s audibles, but now that they know his tics are meaningless they are sure to adjust.
“Between Dungy and I, I think we milked this as far as we could,” Fox said. “Now, defenses will know just to ignore his shouting and flailing and focus on how our offense is lined up.”