INDIANAPOLIS — There have been a lot of big games played in Indianapolis, none bigger than the Colts’ unforgettable win over New England in the AFC championship seven years ago.
While next Monday’s visit from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won’t eclipse that monumental event, there is no doubt that the city has never and will never experience another night like No. 18’s return.
The primetime contest is one that was inconceivable not all that long ago. Prior to the disastrous 2011 season, we all assumed Manning would play every game of his career in a Colts uniform. Like most things in life, however, it didn’t work out as planned.
The only comparable situation in my lifetime was Joe Montana’s 1993 exit from San Francisco, something that seemed impossible after he delivered four Super Bowl titles. The best big-game quarterback of all-time, Montana found himself in Kansas City as the 49ers put their future in the hands of Steve Young.
The Colts hope they’re as fortunate, to have back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs, but even with Andrew Luck’s great start to his career, nothing is guaranteed, including the kind of storybook ending Manning was supposed to have here.
With Manning again lighting up the league, it’s easy to forget how uncertain his return from repeated neck procedures was. For a while, his rocket arm was a limp noodle tossing dirt balls. Now, he looks as good as ever, and although the pain of his departure has subsided in Colts Nation, each touchdown he throws and every win he accumulates stings a little bit.
Right now, Denver’s offense looks unstoppable, and there’d certainly be some poetic justice if the Broncos went 19-0. It would be the perfect slap to former tyrannical team president Bill Polian, who pulled the plug on the Colts’ perfect season in 2009. That was the beginning of the end of the Manning era, as widespread injuries killed his final two years with the team.
While the Pacers’ run from 1994-2000 was special and elevated Indianapolis on the national stage, the 2003-10 stretch for the Colts was the golden age of Indy pro sports. I feel fortunate to have covered the team and to have had season tickets during that remarkable and entertaining time. The memories of both amazing wins and crushing defeats, shared with family and friends, live forever. Unfortunately, it all came to a brutal conclusion.
The last personal experience I had with Manning was during November of the 2011 season, when he came by to talk with my table at St. Elmo after another calamitous Curtis Painter Sunday. He was gracious and genuine, perhaps knowing that he was on the last leg of his historic journey in Indy. During his tear-jerker of a farewell press conference a few months later, I wished I’d conveyed more just how much he and the team meant to us and the city. Sometimes words can’t do the job.
I’ve been asked numerous times how I’ll be in the stands on Sunday night. In the end, it’s pretty simple — if I’m able to find my seat after five hours of tailgating, I’ll applaud loudly for Manning when he takes the field, and briefly and fondly recall a time now gone. After that, I want Robert Mathis to rip his head off.
Sorry, Peyton. That’s how it goes.
— Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Westside Flyer. He may be reached by calling 272-5800 ext. 190 or by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.