Carolee Fischer’s interest was piqued the moment she pulled the light blue envelope with no return address on it from her mailbox.
It turned out to be the best 81st birthday present the longtime Greenwood resident could have imagined.
Inside the envelope was a birthday card signed by her favorite athlete, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. It arrived last year, two weeks before her May 4 birthday.
With Manning’s recent retirement from professional football, the card, which Fischer at first thought was a joke, has become that much more of a keepsake.
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“This friend of mine wrote a letter (to Manning) and didn’t even tell me. When I got this card in the mail, I thought, ‘Who’s playing a joke on me?’” said Fischer, who displays the card on the mantle above her fireplace.
“I didn’t say anything and, finally, I told the people I see at church, ‘You’ll never guess what happened. I got this card. Somebody pulled a joke on me.’ Finally, Cindy spoke up and said, ‘You did get one.’”
Approximately two months earlier, on Jan. 30, 2015, Fisher’s friend, Cindy Kilmark, wrote a six-paragraph letter to Manning describing Fischer’s charitable deeds (making fleece blankets for the children for the children at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis among them) and unwavering support of his professional football career.
The letter at one point says:
Carolee is a huge Peyton Manning fan. She lives and breathes for Peyton and the Broncos. She couldn’t love you any more if she was your own grandmother. She was heartbroken when you left the Colts.
Manning, after being released by the Colts, signed with Denver on March 20, 2012. But his departure didn’t lessen Fischer’s deep admiration for Manning, both as a player and a human being.
Fisher said she would have continued pulling for Manning no matter who he signed with, even had it been the New England Patriots.
Leaning forward and talking in a voice barely louder than a whisper, Fischer revealed why.
“Because he’s such a good person,” she said. “I can’t stand dishonestly, really. I’m old-school, and I can’t stand what’s going on in the world today. When you get somebody like Peyton, who said he’s going to earn his money … everybody else wants to know what you’re going to give them.”
Fischer knew little of Manning during his football career at the University of Tennessee, where from 1994 to 1997 he threw for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns and eventually had his No. 16 jersey retired.
But once the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, she began to notice something special.
“It didn’t take long. It really didn’t. I liked him even when they were 3-13 his first year. I liked the way he directed everything. He was in charge from the get-go, and he always took time in the off-season to make his teammates better,” Fischer said.
“Every player he’s had as a teammate became a better person and a better player.”
Born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia, Fischer is an encyclopedia of football knowledge. At age 10, she met Jim Fischer at confirmation class at Edgewood Lutheran Church in Wheeling and admits to not being terribly fond of him.
On April 3, the couple will have been married 62 years.
“I’m kind of indifferent (about Manning),” Jim said. “I liked him and thought he was great for Indianapolis but was hoping he would be successful out there, too.
“(Carolee) is so into football that she sits here (in the living room) and watches it, and I go in my bedroom and watch it.
“We can’t watch it together.”
The first quarterback Carolee watched play in person was former Cleveland Browns great Otto Graham — whose NFL career spanned 10 seasons (1946-55) — at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.
By the time Manning arrived in Indianapolis, she was 64.
Although Carolee Fischer never watched Manning play a game in person, she holds him in the highest regard.
“I’ve just enjoyed every minute of his career. There’s never been a time that I didn’t,” Fischer said. “And I admire his parents for raising three sons that have turned out as good as they have.”
Manning played 14 seasons in Indianapolis and four in Denver. Now that he has retired, Fisher has no special allegiance to the Broncos but is still a Colts fan.
What she wants to do now is live long enough to see Manning be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A sure-fire first-ballot entry, Manning’s perfectly scripted speech would come the first week of August in 2021, if he is voted in on the first ballot.
Carolee Fischer, who would be 87 then, can hardly wait.
THE FISCHER FILE
Name: Carolee Fischer
Family: Husband, Jim; daughters, Lisa Fischer-Wade, 54, Amy Collier, 52; three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren
Favorite TV show: “Any sports event”
Favorite food: Seafood
Favorite movie: “The Sound of Music”
Favorite athlete: Peyton Manning
Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts