Another amazing “Unique” ability from an Indianapolis Firefighting American Hero. Indianapolis Firefighter Ryan Feeney worked on Peyton Manning’s bronze statue project for 16 months.
Ryan Feeney Video: http://indy.st/2bYrzEE
Indy Star Article from Clifton Brown
Follow IndyStar sportswriter Clifton Brown on Twitter @CliftonGBrown.
The man who built Peyton Manning’s statue has met Manning just once. Ryan Feeney requested to see Manning in person, to get the larger-than-life monument just right.
Feeney wanted to see Manning’s face, his eyes, his body up close. Feeney needed that human interaction, not just pictures, to craft the minute details in the statue that will be unveiled Saturday at 3 p.m. outside Lucas Oil Stadium.
A rendezvous was arranged between the quarterback and the sculptor in August of last year. They met for about an hour, inside a large airport hangar in Nashville. When their session ended, Manning only had two requests for the statue.
“He asked, ‘Can we keep the helmet on?” Feeney said. “I was planning on doing that anyway. It looks weird to have a quarterback throwing without a helmet on. He insisted on that.”
The second request?
“He got me aside and said, ‘Do you mind if we do the 25-year-old Peyton Manning?’’’, Feeney said during a recent interview at his Indy Art Forge studio. “I totally understand. I have gray hair.”
Feeney politely refused to reveal more specific details about the statue when interviewed recently at his Indy Art Forge studio. The Colts and Feeney want Saturday’s ceremony to be a true unveiling, not an anticlimactic showing of a statue that many people have already seen.
The closer the unveiling, the more anticipation Feeney has. By Saturday, he figures to be a bundle of nerves.
“I’ll probably dry heave in the back, somewhere Peyton can’t see me,” Feeney said.
If images of the statue leak out prior to Saturday, the leak won’t come from Feeney. And don’t bother stopping by Feeney’s studio to get a peak. The statue is not there, being kept in an undisclosed location.
The secrecy is part of this unique experience for Feeney, an Indianapolis native and Cathedral High grad, who is a member of the Indianapolis Fire Department. He is proud of his work, and proud the Colts selected someone from Indianapolis to create a statue of a sports icon, one that is destined to be viewed by millions for years to come.
Feeney worked on this project for 16 months, and the pressure on him to create something special was undeniable. The work is over. This weekend, he will get the public’s reaction.
“I’m excited, I’m anxious, I’m nervous – everything in between,” said Feeney. “To put it in Peyton’s perspective, your main goal is to get to the Super Bowl. To me, having this Peyton Manning sculpture is my Super Bowl. My years of preparation was for a big job like this. It’s going to be really hard to find another project that is this special to me. Anytime they have a Monday night football game, anytime they do anything at Lucas, this thing’s going to get photographed.”
Meeting Manning was part of the surreal experience of doing this project. For Feeney, the get-together was all business. He had heard stories about how meticulous Manning was, and Feeney came with a list of poses he wanted from Manning, so as not to waste his time. Feeney said Manning was completely cooperative and did each pose enthusiastically, at one point even posing as if standing behind center, pointing and barking audibles. Feeney admitted he felt weird, giving instructions to one of the NFL’s all-time greatest field generals.
“I’m saying, ‘Move this way,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Was I just rude to Peyton Manning?’’’ Feeney said. “He did everything I asked and more. He’s a very busy man, but he’s also humble and friendly. You could tell that in the first five minutes. I really appreciate what he did. The way he analyzed the defense, I was analyzing his body.”
Feeney wants people to know the statue wasn’t just his creation, but a group effort. The statue was first done in clay, before it was taken to Sincerus Bronze Art Center in Indianapolis to be cast in bronze. The clay statue was cut into 18 different pieces. Each piece was then poured in bronze, before the bronze statue was put together.
“You got to have good people on both ends,” Feeney said. “If his arm’s too long, it’s not going to look good. If the bronze doesn’t look good, it’s not going to look good. It’s not just me. It’s a collaboration. The people at Sincerus have poured their heart and soul into this as well.”
Feeney was already an established sculptor in Indianapolis, whose works include the Peace Dove Sculpture for the Indianapolis Library, the Fallen Deputy Memorial in front of the Marion County Jail, and the bronze eagle at the Indianapolis 9/11 Memorial.
However, there was serious competition for the Manning project from coast to coast. The Colts interviewed him three times before giving him the job. During the process, Feeney leaned heavily on people in the Colts organization to get an authentic look.
“I’m 20 minutes from the Colts’ complex, and they were welcome to come by anytime,” Feeney said. “When the equipment guy said, ‘That thigh pad needs to be moved a little bit to the left,’ I moved it. I’m talking a half-inch. And that’s fine. Because in the end, I want it to be perfect. If that meant I had to start over, I started over. My name is going on it. My reputation.
“I pulled up pictures, back to when he was with Tennessee. Where the veins are in the arms. The sweat bands. He wore the bigger ones. I don’t think he ever had a play card on his wrist. He always had bigger shoulder pads. He had longer sleeves. Quarterbacks now have those tight-fitted jerseys. His was loose. That’s the attention to detail that I’m creating.”
Over and over, Feeney would make progress on the sculpture, only to backtrack when something was not exactly what he wanted.
“One of the guys at my firehouse is very particular and a huge Colts fan,” Feeney said. “I show it to him, he says, ‘I think it’s off. The spacing between the No. 1 and the letter M, and the letter G and the No. 8 is off.’ He took a tape measure, and it was off by a half-inch. So I fixed it. That’s the type of people I’ve had look at it. Don’t tell me it looks fantastic. Tell me what I can do to make it better. With all the other bad sculptures that are out there, I don’t want this to be another one. When it gets unveiled, I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh my goodness, what is that?’’’
If people don’t like the finished product, how will Feeney react? He knew that question was coming, because he has thought about it often. He said he would draw from his experience attending art school at Miami (Ohio).
“They sat you in the middle of the (class) room and they’d either rip you, or love you,” Feeney said. “I’m sure there’s going to be both with this one, because it’s art. You can never please everybody. I’m going to guess 90 percent will love it, and 10 percent will be, ‘Well why did you do that? Why did you have that pose? His foot’s not like that.’ That’s fine. I’m glad I went to art school. It taught me to deal with a little bit of rejection.”
Manning is the only person Feeney desperately wants to please. If someone has given Manning a sneak peek of the finished product, Feeney is not aware of it.
“I hope Peyton he likes it,” Feeney said. “I hope he thinks it’s one of the coolest things he’s ever seen.”
For that reason, when the tarp comes off the statue, Feeney will look at the crowd. He will look at Manning, hoping to see a smile.
Follow IndyStar sportswriter Clifton Brown on Twitter @CliftonGBrown.