Four lessons Congress can learn from Peyton Manning

Apparently, the Mr. and Ms. Smiths who went to Washington forgot why we elected them to the U.S. Congress. The federal government has shut down for the first time in nearly two decades, but a few hours of football film could inspire legislators to get back in the game and resolve the fiscal crisis.

Instead of making the rounds of the talk shows, I suggest that legislators order subs and Gatorade and attend a virtual training camp with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. A few focused hours with Manning – preferably with phone calls, tweeting, texting, videogames and lobbyists strictly forbidden – will take America’s legislators from name-calling to game-calling. Four lessons legislators could learn from film study with Manning right away:

peytonmanning1 Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (Jack Dempsey/AP)

1) Manning loves the game. The intricacies of football are so exciting to him that he isn’t only a quarterback – he’s a coach on the field. He rehearses options and alternatives, for his team and his competition. Application:  It should go without saying, but Congress must embrace the opportunity to help people, and master the legislative process of compromise and strategy well enough that the federal government isn’t shut down to make a point.

2) Manning respects the game. He studies the legends of the game and can recite their stats. Application: The Legislative Branch is not the frat and sorority houses. It’s not the place to govern capriciously or ignore history.

3) Manning expects excellence. He not only demands that his receivers be prepared and know the plays, he prepares himself. Stand-out quarterbacks exact high self-performance before they demand it from others. Because they do, they claim the lion’s share of a franchise’s loot. In the case of the Broncos, this is why Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway artfully courted Manning to Denver. Application: Congress isn’t giving up a paycheck. Their family budgets aren’t at risk. Nevertheless, 800,000 people face being sent home from their government-jobs. Another million will work without pay, disrupting how they pay for groceries and gas and babysitters and mortgages. And this benefits the nation how?

4) Manning stays focused, even when it hurts.  When naysayers said he couldn’t come back after four neck surgeries and that his best was behind him, criticism and resistance didn’t stop Manning. He figured it out. Application: Congress must demonstrate transcendent passion and will to govern the nation. Especially when the leadership moment requires they reach beyond their partisan borders to serve in the nation’s best interests.

In other words, crib notes from Manning as strategist and practitioner could help Congress overcome its self-generated impasse. Manning’s version of the no-huddle offense would enable legislators to change strategies as the country’s needs demand. Isn’t that a better option than clustering like high school players who refuse to play football in the rain?

Legislators could also borrow one of Manning’s often-heard calls – “Hurry! Hurry!” – and make the words a rallying cry for Congress to repair the breaches in the nation with all diligent speed.

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Mary C. Curtis · October 1, 2013