The John Carroll University – NFL connection is strong. One of JCU’s unlikelier ties to professional football cemented his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history on Sunday.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who won his second Super Bowl on Sunday in a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, shares a close relationship with JCU head football coach Tom Arth.
Arth’s lessons learned from Manning helped the JCU coach build a renowned football program in University Heights.
Long before Manning became a Bronco, the Tennessee native was an Indianapolis Colt. Drafted in 1998, Manning established himself as a marquee quarterback in the NFL. Manning took the Colts from 3-13 in his rookie year to 13-3 in 1999.
Meanwhile, Arth was cutting his teeth as a quarterback at JCU. The Saint Ignatius High School grad set his sights on the pros, breaking record after record and leading the Blue Streaks to win after win.
In 2003, Arth achieved his dream. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Colts at the completion of a stellar 4-year career at JCU. Arth soon met the legendary quarterback at mini-camp following the NFL Draft.
“I was still a student at JCU at the time and meeting Peyton was sort of this weird feeling, like you see the guy on TV all the time, and then there he is right next to me at his locker,” Arth said. “I remember Peyton being very welcoming and friendly. He was very funny and what always really impressed me was that he knew so much about my background.”
As a backup to Manning, Arth learned the Colts’ system quickly. Recognized as one of the smarter quarterbacks to play the game, Manning tested Arth and forced him to spend extra hours in the film room.
“I didn’t know anything about football before I got to Indianapolis,” Arth said. “I thought I did, but I knew nothing. The time I spent learning from Peyton impacted my life in so many ways. His commitment and his work ethic are things that people talk about – but unless you have been there and seen it – you cannot even begin to understand what football means to him and the way that he prepares, and demands that same commitment from his coaches, teammates, and frankly, everyone in the building. It is like nothing I have ever seen.
“I learned very quickly that you had better be prepared for anything and everything that he could possibly throw at you,” Arth continued. “Peyton was famous for randomly asking obscure and difficult questions that pertained to the film, the opponent, or the game plan. He would say, for example, ‘Tom, what’s your call here in this situation…it’s 3rd and-9, there’s 1:27 seconds left in the game, the score is tied…and by the way, the coaches’ phones went down, you have no timeouts, the play clock is at 10 seconds…9, 8, 7, 6.’ He would literally count down the clock and if you didn’t have an answer it would be delay of game…you lose. Or if you didn’t have a good answer, well that was probably worse!”
Arth became closer with his mentor over the three years he spent as Manning’s understudy, from 2003-05.
“Peyton is who he is – the person who I met day one was the same guy that I knew years later. We certainly developed a relationship over the time I spent in Indianapolis, and we became closer,” Arth said. “But has always been very genuine – just a really good guy.”
Following the 2005 season, Arth departed from Indianapolis and joined the Green Bay Packers before the 2006 season. Released after training camp, Arth played with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 2007, the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League in 2007, and the Georgia Force of the AFL in 2008.
Arth then latched on with the Blue Streaks in 2010, spending three seasons as an assistant coach and co-offensive coordinator. Then in 2012, Arth received a promotion to head coach.
Upon receiving the coveted job, Arth received wise advice from Manning.
“He just told me to do the same things that I did when I was in Indy – to work hard and the rest would take care of itself,” Arth said.
Arth has worked hard and the results have shown it. Arth’s teams have compiled a 28-6 overall record and notched two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Just like Arth, Manning has enjoyed three solid seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl championship. The 39-year-old signalcaller is said to be pondering retirement following a remarkable 18-year NFL career, which should land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Manning will pursue a job in coaching following retirement, this time following in the footsteps of Arth.
Whatever his fate, Manning shares a key similarity with Arth: Leadership.
“Peyton is an excellent leader,” Arth said. “His style is a little different than mine in some ways, but what we have in common is that we both lead by example and with our hearts.”