Throughout the course of his legendary football career, Broncos QB Peyton Manning has faced the pressure-filled, unique situations of playing in two Super Bowls and against his brother Eli’s Giants team twice.
In all of those situations, emotions were high and tested Manning’s ability to play with enough poise and skill to lead his team to victory. More often than not, the O.G. signal caller with more passing yards than any player in the history of the game other than Brett Favre, came out on top.
Sunday would be another test of Manning’s composure, as he returned to Lucas Oil Stadium, which was home to his finest moments as a football player from the time the Colts drafted him out of Tennessee with the first pick of the 1998 draft.
The rest is NFL history.
Manning took a franchise that was running in quicksand and transformed it into perennial contenders, forming an unbreakable bond with the people of Indiana and putting mega loot in the pocket of owner Jim Irsay in the process. When he left the Colts to join Denver, following a one-year hiatus to nurse what could have been career-ending neck surgery, it was a bitter sweet moment. The prodigal son and face of the franchise was leaving to go play somewhere else. It wasn’t like he was retiring. The Colts regressed to the NFL’s worst team in Manning’s absence.
But there was a silver lining in their failure. As sad and uncomfortable as Manning’s departure was, the situation worked out for both teams who are now among the NFL’s best squads. That dismal 2011 brought the Colts (5-2) Andrew Luck, who’s proving to be the stud scouts clamored over when he was at Stanford. Meanwhile, Manning settled on Denver (6-1) after surveying a list of about 10 potential suitors.
Sunday’s matchup was the first between the oldschool Colts signal caller and their newschool Kid Dynamite. Lucas Oil Stadium was jam packed and fired up for this historic clash. It might have also been the last time Colts fans (whose affection for Luck grows with every one of his NFL leading, nine, game-winning drives over the past two years) get to properly thank Manning for 14 years of unprecedented and mythical QB play. And embrace him one last time for taking a laughing stock franchise and leading them to seven consecutive 12-win seasons and a Lombardi Trophy.
Before the game, the Broncos came out of the locker room to boos, until Manning emerged. The Colts flashed his face on the big screen and played a 1:12 second video tribute, and the crowd of 67,000 gave him a 90-second standing ovation, as the NFL world simultaneously took a trip down memory lane.
Irsay, after praising Manning, was the first to draw the line in the sand and make it clear that although they miss his video game numbers and regular season success, Luck is the future. And Irsay feels they’ll win more Super Bowls with him. "We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these," he told USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, while flicking up his right hand to show his Super Bowl XLI championship ring. "[Tom] Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these. "Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated. You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this."
Later, Broncos coach John Fox called Irsay's comments “inappropriate” and a “cheap shot.” Most felt they would add fire to Manning, who's had as good a start as he’s ever had to a season, leading the NFL in TD passes, with 25, and passing yards with 2,565 in seven games. Peyton did have 386 yards passing and three TDs, but by the end of yesterday game, it was Indianapolis’s new dream team—Luck and Irsay—who were raising their hands in victory, as his Colts came out wilding and took a huge early lead that Denver couldn’t rebound from. The Colts held on for a 39-33 win.
Heading into the game, Manning and Denver seemed virtually unbeatable. The Broncos were scoring points by the dozens in the midst of a 17-game regular-season winning streak and showed no signs of slowing down. A swarming Colts defense—who kept things just unpleasant enough for Manning—and the solid play of Indy’s new favorite son made sure Peyton’s homecoming resulted in a bum rush. "We, I guess, had four turnovers and still somehow had a chance to win that game,” Manning told cbsnews.com. “I would have liked to have seen it go to a two-point game down there toward the end and see what would have happened, but it never quite got to that point. We certainly have to improve from this game, because we weren't as sharp, execution-wise, as we'd like to be."
Manning pointed out that moving forward, the Broncos, who missed several key opportunities to complete the comeback, will learn from this game. And although he didn’t show it, he's probably couldn’t be happier to get this game behind him, thinking about the playoffs, and getting a second crack at the young buck who has taken over the town he made into a winner.