Our newly hired sports writer, and life-long Colts fan gives his take on the Colts parting ways with QB Peyton Manning.
I was 11 when I first discovered the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. It was October 6, 2003; I remember it vividly. I walked into our home office where my dad was watching that week’s Monday night football game featuring the Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Led by John Gruden, the Buccaneers were fresh off issuing a Super Bowl beat-down to the Raiders. With Derrick Brooks manning the middle of the field, the Buccaneers were routing the colts 35-14 with 5:09 left in the game as they were kicking off to the Colts.
The camera flashed to Manning, coming off a pick-six in his last drive. The facial expression that was displayed upon my tv screen I later got to know as “THE Peyton Manning Face.” Indy responded with an improbable rally. Three quick touchdowns, a controversial onside kick recovery, two costly Buccaneer penalties, and a game winning field goal that clanged in off the upright later. The Colts came away with an overtime miracle win, 38-35. In my 11-year-old eyes, Peyton Manning accomplished the impossible. I had just witnessed artistry so dazzling it was as if I was watching a conductor lead his orchestra through a symphony.
My fandom escalated and Peyton came to be my favorite athlete, which is saying quite a bit given my love for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. Peyton was always a step above.
Tuesday, ESPN Chris Mortenson reported that according to team sources the Colts plan to release Peyton Manning, which will be announced at a joint press conference on Wednesday. Jim Irsay has decided that the Colts cannot pay $28 million to their franchise, once in a lifetime quarterback, given their intentions to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Peyton’s neck issues. The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis is over.
Signs were pointing toward this outcome ever since the Peytonless Colts finished the season with a league worst 2-14 and attained the league’s first overall pick in the upcoming draft. Head coach Jim Caldwall was fired, and longtime GM Bill Polian was also let go, despite building the Colts dynasty over the last decade and a half. After the Superbowl, the PR war began. Peyton spoke about a “dark cloud” hanging over Indy’s facilities and Irsay responded by calling Peyton a “politician.” Both softened on their comments, but the schism was evident.
Irsay probably made the right football and business decision. Peyton turns 36 at the end of March after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. He has had multiple neck surgeries and has been slow to gain nerve regeneration in his right triceps. The Colts plan on taking Luck with the number one pick, who is regarded as one of the surest prospects to come through the draft. The Colts are in the process of a complete organizational makeover and Peyton is the next obvious choice to go.
Despite all of the logic in the world to back this decision Peyton Manning was the soul of the Indianapolis Colts. He changed that franchise from a mediocre team to a Super-Bowl contender every year. That city and fanbase grew around him and changed the sports landscape in Indiana. His departure leaves a giant hole in every Colts fans’ heart, a pain so deep that it shakes your very core. Indy fans have invested their lives in Peyton Manning and now he is gone.
Indy fans, me included, should feel privileged to have such an iconic and talented athlete play for our team. We all know the Hall-of-Fame numbers: 4 MVPs, 11x Pro Bowler, 5-time All Pro, second only to Brett Favre in most consecutive games played, and many more Hall-of-Fame worthy accolades. In time, Indy fans will heal and look back on this era fondly, grateful for the things that Peyton accomplished because it was remarkable. But right now, this one hurts.