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Sundays with Sacco: Manning always gives back

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When it comes to anything that makes our society better, Peyton Manning is all about "we," never about "me."

On Thursday it was announced that he has started the Chattanooga Heroes Fund at the Community of Greater Chattanooga, in honor of those who lost their lives and those who were wounded in the recent shootings in Tennessee.

Donations to the Chattanooga Heroes Fund from individuals, companies and organizations are welcomed in any amount, and information about support is available elsewhere on the Denver Broncos website as well as via other media.

When families need help, Manning is there.

To be sure, the Denver Broncos have a long list of players who do great work in the community.

Just one example is that also on Thursday, safety David Bruton Jr. announced his Bruton's Books foundation is hosting a recreational bike ride on Sunday to support early childhood reading programs.

But no one has visibility within the National Football League community like Manning, who is, in my opinion, the overwhelming choice as the face of the NFL.

His charity roots extend from Louisiana through Tennessee and Indiana, and most recently are growing in Colorado.

There is a litany of causes and concerns that he routinely aids, but we have found that his passion for support is matched only by his desire to do so privately as often as possible.

The Chattanooga shootings moved him to action for two reasons: Manning's association with the city of Chattanooga and his love and passion for America's military.

He was in Chattanooga when the shootings occurred and went to the site as soon as he could to thank the first responders. The only reason his visit became public was that the Chattanooga Police Department proudly sent out Twitter announcements noting it and thanking him.

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Upon the creation of the Chattanooga Heroes Fund, with Manning naturally making an initial contribution, he commented, "Our family has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the great city of Chattanooga. It has a very special place in our hearts. The five servicemen who gave their lives, the police officer who risked his life in order to protect others, and the actions of many other first responders were truly heroic."

Manning knows about heroes.

He could have done anything, but anything less than the absolute is too little for him, so he was once again moved to action.

There are full explanations and comments about the Chattanooga Heroes Fund elsewhere on the Denver Broncos website, but you will not find Manning tooting his own horn anywhere.

He is in fact the complete embodiment of team owner Pat Bowlen's spirit of giving, which is basically to always do the right thing and don't broadcast it.

Like the Lone Ranger, if you are waiting for Manning to stay for pictures with the news media to promote his giving, you are in for a long wait. There have been innumerable interview requests, both from local media and from huge national organizations, to discuss his charity. Each of these is met with a polite decline.

Peyton Manning is as polite as he is private, which is completely so on both counts.

In Indianapolis, he made so many unannounced visits to the Saint Vincent's Children's Hospital and quietly supported it in so many ways that they changed the name of the hospital to the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital, operated by Saint Vincent's.

Those of us with the Broncos remember back to 2012 and the horrific theater shootings in Aurora. Manning almost immediately called public relations and asked one question, "How can I help?"

And he did so much, but in keeping with Manning's spirit or privacy I will just note that it is never his way to do a public thing in a public way. Whenever possible, do it in a cloak of secrecy.

This is a huge part of his leadership initiative, and likely the best part.

He hosts Make-A-Wish visits every Friday of the football season. But it is from the heart and for the kids, not for cameras.

Those who receive them are well familiar with his propensity to write letters and make phone calls, always from the heart and authentic. It is just not in his DNA to do less than his maximum in any troubling situation.

Once in a while a recipient makes the letter public, usually through a combination of great thanks and shock that he would reach out as he does.

Recently I sat next to a total stranger at a baseball game, and he was proudly talking about his son, who is a Navy Seal. As the game and our conversation wore on, when he realized I worked for the Denver Broncos, his comments turned exclusively to Peyton Manning.

But not one comment had to do with Manning the quarterback. He told me story after story of personal visits by Manning with his son and other Seals, in every possible venue, and I never have heard anyone make remarks so strong about a player's genuine support for our nation's military.

My comment to him was that probably the 10 most impressive things I feel about Manning are all about community.

At the core of our being is a fundamental question: What does it mean to be a human on earth? How are we to act?

"How can I help?" is at his core.

His greatness on the football field is matched only by his true philanthropic spirit.

Expert and amateur analysts can and will debate his rank among all-time quarterbacks seemingly forever, but what can never be debated is his level of concern and work for our society beyond football.

The Broncos and our fans are fortunate to be able to call Peyton Manning one of us.

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