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NFL star Peyton Manning passing through Columbus on his way to a speaking career

Peyton Manning speaks in March during his retirement announcement at the Denver Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo. The retired NFL star quarterback will be in Columbus Monday night. --
Peyton Manning speaks in March during his retirement announcement at the Denver Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo. The retired NFL star quarterback will be in Columbus Monday night. -- -- Associated Press

Like most sports contests, it was timing, some skill and a bit of good fortune that the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum landed freshly retired NFL star Peyton Manning for next week’s gathering at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

“As soon as he announced his retirement, he had a sports agent representing him, a speakers bureau. So through their bureau he is taking engagements,” said Jessica Drake, assistant director of the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University, which is hosting the two-day event.

“The theme this year is ‘It Takes a Team’ and Warrick Dunn and Peyton Manning were later additions to the team of speakers that we have,” she said. “Going into it, we knew that we had our leadership and our business speakers. We knew we had Jim Nance and Bill Curry and the military. It just so happened that (Manning and Dunn) were available and we got them.”

Manning, the NFL’s all-time leading passer who retired after winning his second Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos seven months ago, will be Monday night’s closer and the event’s headliner.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dunn will wrap up the 11th year of the forum, which also will feature award-winning sports announcer Nantz, former coach and Super Bowl champion Curry, and Winter Paralympic ski racing medalist Bonnie St. John.

As of midday Thursday, Drake said there were only 39 seats remaining for the gathering, which has a capacity of 1,200 attendees this year, fewer than there were a year ago when former President George W. Bush, wife Laura and daughter Barbara headlined the forum. This year’s cost is $529 per person.

“We maxed the place out last year for the Bush family and we just wanted to make it not quite so tight to give people a little elbow room,” Drake said of this year’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, its namesake the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Columbus-based Synovus Financial Corp.

With Manning, the event gets a star still hot from the Denver Bronco’s Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers last February. The former University of Tennessee quarterback also won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. Over 18 NFL seasons, he became the all-time passing yardage and touchdowns leader, was named to 14 Pro Bowl teams, and was named NFL Most Valuable Player five times.

While the forum doesn’t disclose what it pays those who speak at its event, Celebrity Speakers Bureau lists his “fee range” as $100,000 and above. Manning has been making a variety of appearances, including a celebrity roast of actor Rob Lowe — and others on stage — last Monday. In October, he will be the headline speaker for the National Convenience Store Association convention and show in Atlanta.

Dunn, meanwhile, has much more modest stats over his 12-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons. Still, the Florida State University star running back amassed nearly 11,000 yards on the ground and another 4,000-plus receiving yards in the NFL. The three-time Pro Bowler also is involved with Warrick Dunn Charities.

Both Manning and Dunn are natives of Louisiana, the quarterback from New Orleans and the running back from Baton Rouge. Those two aside, the balance of the forum is well stocked with talent, Drake said.

“We’ve found every year there’s always a dark horse in the speaker lineup,” she said. “There’s always somebody that nobody knew a lot about or never heard of and they talk and you’re like, oh, my goodness, I’m a fan. So we’re interested to see who that might be this year.”

The Blanchard Forum has been a stage for a wide range of business, political, military and nonprofit leaders, along with insightful leadership experts and authors.

The gathering this year also includes Ajaypal Singh Banga, president and CEO of Mastercard; Henry Cloud, psychologist and life coach; Patricia Florissi, vice president and chief technology officer of EMC Corp.; Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and author of “Lone Survivor,” which became a movie; Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Army chief of staff; Tommy Spaulding, author and former president and CEO of Up With People; Shana Young, director of the Leadership Institute; and Blanchard himself.

“We are extremely proud of this year’s diverse speaker lineup and leadership perspectives,” said Ed Helton, assistant vice president of leadership development at Columbus State University.

Again this year, CSU students with a valid ID will be able to watch the entire forum live via simulcast inside University Hall Auditorium. That includes Manning’s presentation, which is off limits to working media. That’s per his contract, Drake said.

As is customary, event organizers will release the lineup for the next year’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum at the close of business on Tuesday. The theme in 2017, Drake said, will be “Inspired Leadership.” She also noted the gathering will move back to its normal timeframe of the last Monday and Tuesday in August.

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