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Millions across the country heard Peyton Manning on Sunday, as he has in the past, repeatedly calling out, “Omaha! Omaha!”
One onlooker heard the call not on TV but live and at close quarters — Omaha attorney Clete Blakeman, who refereed the Broncos-Chargers playoff game.
“I heard it all day long,” Clete said Monday. “At one point we had a commercial break and I said, 'Peyton, you know I'm from Omaha, right?' He just kind of chuckled.”
“Omaha!” is a code word that means something to Peyton's Denver teammates. It's a term he has used for years as he steps to the line of scrimmage, surveys the defensive alignment and begins his pre-snap count. Other quarterbacks have used it, too.
When people from elsewhere hear or read of “Omaha,” they might associate it with widely known icons — Omaha Steaks, Mutual of Omaha or the Oracle of Omaha, investor Warren Buffett.
But what does it mean when an iconic quarterback calls out “Omaha!”?
“I think it's an audible trigger,” said Clete, a University of Nebraska quarterback in the mid-1980s. “If he yells 'Omaha!' it triggers the next play.
“At Nebraska, we used to signal a change by saying, 'Check! Check!' It's kind of like an alert. The code or number that's called next is the trigger to what the new play will be.”
Others have said that “Omaha!” means “opposite.” In other words, if the original call was a running play to the right, the call means run to the left.
Or it could relate to the snap count. Peyton drew the Chargers offsides a few times, and some observers say “Omaha!” signaled his teammates that the snap would come on the count of 2 instead of 1.
To some, all of this is more than Inside Football. The frequent calls of “Omaha!” delight the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The bureau tweeted: “We certainly appreciate all the love from #PeytonManning.”
That message was retweeted widely, including on NFL on Fox and NFL on ESPN. Within two hours, the bureau said, the tweet was trending, meaning it became one of the most popular topics mentioned nationally on Twitter.
The blogger SB Nation wrote: “Peyton Manning can't stop talking about Omaha.”
» “I'm totally going to be just blurting Omaha out @ work all day.”
» “I want to yell 'Omaha! Omaha!' at the self-checkout at the grocery store, and see if someone jumps out of line.”
» “You (Omaha) might wind up with the least expensive Super Bowl ads ever.”
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
It's not the first time this has come up. Quarterbacks — including Peyton's brother Eli of the New York Giants — have been using “Omaha!” for years, and The World-Herald has reported on it more than once before.
But Manning's repeated use of our city's name — on 44 of Denver's 70 plays — stood out on Sunday.
“It was clear and crisp, and you could hear it really well,” said Chamber of Commerce President David Brown, who watched the game on TV. “There's been an incredible amount of social media, and I'm getting (news media) calls from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver and D.C., as well as the Associated Press. There's all kinds of interest. It just went viral.”
Brown, who played defensive end for Dartmouth in the 1970s, said the chamber is trying to determine how to further capitalize on the moment. There's not enough money to buy an ad for Denver's game this Sunday against the New England Patriots, whose quarterback, Tom Brady, also has used the “Omaha!” audible.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau took note of the possibility that both quarterbacks could be shouting our town's name from the line of scrimmage. The bureau wryly suggested in a tweet that the coming Manning-Brady playoff game needs a name of its own: “Omaha Bowl has a great ring to it.”
In any case, reports of “Omaha! Omaha!” have traveled far and wide — even to Paris. The English version of the French news agency Agence France-Presse carried the headline Monday, “NFL: Manning's signal call shout-outs delight 'Omaha.' ”
Peyton, always a gentleman, has visited Omaha at least once. He spoke at Boys Town in 1999, when he was 23, stressing that athletes are role models.
He was also the opposing quarterback in a historic Husker game — Tom Osborne's last as head coach. After NU thrashed Tennessee 42-17, the national coaches' poll voted the 1997 Huskers No. 1 in the country.
“We just got beat by a better team that night,” Peyton said at Boys Town. “They were so strong and had a lot to play for — the national championship, and it was Coach Osborne's last game. It wasn't great timing on our part.”
Local officials know that the timing is always right for free publicity, even if it's just a future Hall of Fame quarterback repeatedly calling out the city's name.
Said the chamber's Brown: “I just kept smiling every time he said it.”
Omaha Steaks couldn't resist getting into the act:
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Video: What does Omaha mean? Former NFL players explain:
Video: Peyton Manning discusses his "Omaha" call Wednesday: