Peyton Manning is taking “Omaha!” to the Super Bowl, and civic leaders are practically doing a touchdown dance.
“We're absolutely thrilled,” said David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. “This is another couple of weeks with the potential for Omaha being in the discussion.”
Manning audibled “Omaha!” 31 times at the line of scrimmage in Sunday's 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots. Because eight Omaha companies said they would donate $100 for every time he shouted “Omaha!” that means $24,800 for Manning's charity, the Peyback Foundation for at-risk kids.
Brown said he would like to invite Manning to Omaha when he finishes his work this season, which includes the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
“He has a few other things on his mind right now,” Brown said. “You don't want to overplay your hand, but we'll figure out what to do next and maximize what he is trying to do with his foundation and what we are trying to do.”
Manning and other quarterbacks have used “Omaha!” as part of their pre-snap cadences — its meaning known to their teammates — but the topic blew up last week on social media and in the news media.
The Denver Broncos quarterback shouted “Omaha!” 44 times on Jan. 12 in a win over the San Diego Chargers. By midweek, Manning humorously explained that the code word meant a run play, or a pass play or play-action — depending on the wind, the direction the Broncos were heading and what color jerseys they were wearing.
His comment brought chuckles, just as his repeated use of “Omaha!” has brought smiles to Omahans.
On ESPN's NFL Countdown Show, host Chris Berman said Sunday said that “if folks in Nebraska's largest city, Omaha, weren't fans of Peyton at the start of the season, they sure are now.”
Correspondent Rick Reilly then narrated a piece more than three minutes long, saying that “little ol' flyover Omaha” is “full of friendly people you've never met.”
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
The piece featured Omaha scenes, a photo of investor Warren Buffett and a World-Herald front-page illustration from last week, as well as footage of several Omahans: Omaha Steaks Senior Vice President Todd Simon and company butchers; Benson High Principal Anita Harkins-Baldwin and the school's boys and girls basketball teams; Brown of the chamber of commerce; and Mayor Jean Stothert calling out “Omaha! Omaha!”
The Twitterverse lit up again with tweets from everywhere.
Debbie Phelps, mother of Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, who qualified at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha and may return in 2016, tweeted: “Got it OMAHA! Great city! Outstanding venue for @USA_Swimming Olympic Trials.”
Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, who won 21 games and the American League Cy Young Award in 2013, tweeted that he won't shake off his catcher this year: “I'm just going to stand on the mound and yell #Omaha.”
Brown said the chamber of commerce and others spend millions getting Omaha's name noticed nationally, but Manning barks out the city's name, which goes viral on social and other media, and it eclipses everything.
“The social media phenomenon can take off without any expectation,” he said Sunday. “We couldn't have orchestrated this process. We've got to go with the flow and try to be as creative as we can.”
The chamber's 30-second video from last week wishing Denver good luck from “your neighbor, Omaha,” had received nearly 18,000 views Sunday on YouTube.
Brown said all the attention is more than mere fun. For a city without a professional sports team, he said, a buzz like this can translate into tangible advantages, too.
“We know we're a great place, but we've got to get other people talking about the buzz,” he said. “And then we want them to experience what the buzz is all about.”