So long Peyton and thanks for everything. The battles against the Patriots, the comeback in Tampa Bay, nine seasons with 10 wins or more, eight consecutive playoff appearances, the Peyback Foundation, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent’s, all the corny and funny television commercials and Saturday Night Live routine and the selfless promotion of not only the Colts franchise but the city of Indianapolis as well.
Before Manning’s arrival into Indianapolis, the Colts were at times the brunt of league wide jokes. Occasionally they would show flashes of competency such as during the 1995 – 96 NFL season when current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh led the “Cardiac Colts” to one dropped Hail Mary pass away from the Colts first appearance in the Super Bowl since 1970.
But it would be Manning that would turn Indianapolis from a basketball town into a football city. For 13 seasons Manning was the heart, soul and face of the Indianapolis Colts franchise. That all changed this past Wednesday when Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay shared a podium in Indianapolis as it was announced that the Manning chapter in the Colts franchise’s book had come to a close in a press conference that was emotional, heartfelt and classy.
I am a fan that cheers for the name on the front of the jersey or the side of the helmet. Nowadays, it really doesn’t matter what the professional sport is that you cheer for; things such as money, free agency, guaranteed contracts, signing bonuses, performance incentives and long-term contracts have changed the landscape. Even some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history were not able to finish out their careers with their original teams. Names like Montana, Favre and even Unitas all eventually had to move on. So is the case with Peyton Manning.
There are many fans who will not accept this. There have been more than a few “I’ll never follow the Colts again” or “I hope Peyton comes back and kicks their ass”. How quickly many of them forget that as great as Manning is, it was Irsay in the Colts organization that spent the money, time and resources to help make Peyton the player that he became. The patience to stick through Manning’s early failures, the investment in making sure that Peyton had quality players surrounding him and a behind-the-scenes staff to make sure it all ran like clockwork.
And so now the “Peyton Watch” has begun as the many fans who can’t look toward the future, but only want to remember the past frantically tried to keep up with their beloved number 18. Where is he? Where did he go? Who is he talking to? Where will he play?
I will always be a fan of Peyton Manning and must confess that I will be very interested to see what the future holds for him and the team he may eventually play for. I will wish him well in his post Colts career but should he be able to return to playing in the National Football League and should that team happened to come to Indianapolis to play the Colts, I will give Manning the obligatory standing ovation of appreciation as he is announced at the beginning of the game and then hope Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis make a sandwich out of him.
Now as a new chapter begins for the Indianapolis Colts with the supposedly first pick in the NFL draft being Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, do we really expect Irsay in the Colts to treat Luck any differently than they treated Manning? In many ways this gutting of the current Colts squad should not come as any great surprise. Just as Indianapolis did back in 1998 when a rookie quarterback name Manning took over the helm of the Colts; money, time and resources will once again be needed for Luck to blossom in a similar way as Manning did.
Hopefully Colts fans will understand this though unfortunately I believe many of them will be as short on patience as they will be on memory. Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his first year guiding the Indianapolis Colts back in 1998 and the Colts came away with only three victories that season. Any higher expectations of Luck in his rookie season would be foolish.
Peyton Manning became the face an embodiment of the Indianapolis Colts. Just as another longtime former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas was the face of the Baltimore Colts. While some may argue that Manning may be one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, when you combine his on and off field accomplishments he may have no peers. He will be sorely missed not only in the Indianapolis Colts locker room but in the city of Indianapolis as well.
Jim Irsay said that the number 18 jersey would never be worn again. One day, Manning will return to Indianapolis to see his name in Lucas Oil Stadium’s Ring of Fame and also see a bronze statue of number 18 in front of the South Street entrance. But until that day comes I will cheer against Manning from my couch in my living room while watching the game on TV or from the stands at the game as an enemy quarterback makes his entrance in the Lucas oil Stadium to take on the Indianapolis Colts.