I really haven't done much sports here, figuring there were thousands of people more qualified to speak on the topic. (Though that's not stopped me from commenting on a whole host of other issues.) But the news that broke on Tuesday of Peyton Manning's imminent departure from the Colts seems to extend beyond the run-of-the-mill sports event. After all, when was the last time NPR carried an NFL free agency story?
So without further ado, here is my list of the top ten Peyton Manning moments in Indy.
10. September 6, 1998. Manning throws his first NFL touchdown to Marvin Harrison in a game at Seattle. The first of many, to Marvin and overall.
9. October 6, 2003. The Colts rally from a 35-14 deficit with just four minutes left in the game to win on Monday night in Tampa Bay. In those days, my job required a 2:30 AM wake up call, so I went to bed with the Colts trailing 21-0, and couldn't believe my eyes when I read the recap the next morning. In terms of deficit and time remaining, I believe it is still the greatest comeback in NFL history.
8. October 5, 2008. Another amazing comeback, this time against the Houston Texans. The Colts put up 17 points in just 2:10. (Due deference paid to the defense.) And oh yeah, they did almost the same thing, against the same team, in 2009.
7. December 26, 2010. Manning runs a bootleg for a first down against the Raiders. Not exactly the prettiest thing on turf, but considering where the season was at that point, this was a thing of beauty. You know how sometimes a defense guesses the play based on what the other team has been doing the whole game? In this play, the Raiders guessed based on what Manning had done the past decade. And they bit on the fake hard.
6. December 27, 2004. Manning throws his 49th TD of the season, breaking Dan Marino's single-season record. This video compiles all 49 TDs that season:
5. Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison. There were times this just didn't seem fair. The pair holds the NFL record for most touchdowns at 112. Seriously, this was some sweet stuff.
4. September 21, 2009. Statisticians may prove me wrong with a quick Google search, but I believe this may have been the most efficient game a quarterback has played in NFL history. Despite just having the ball less than 15 minutes the entire game thanks to a defense that couldn't get off the field, Manning carries the Colts to a 27-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Just one of my personal favorite Manning moments.
3. November 15, 2009. The Colts beat the Patriots 35-34, completing a 17-point comeback. It will be remembered for Bill Belichick's infamous fourth-and-one call, but that call was made in part because of the tremendous amount of respect - even fear - the Patriots' coach has for No. 18. Check out the final drive of the game here:
2. Super Bowl. The one that got the monkey off the back. Super Bowl XLI capped a relatively improbable playoff run for the Colts, and Manning won MVP honors for the game. Ironically, Peyton didn't have his best statistical game that night, nor were any of the playoff games that year particularly impressive (with one exception). But his ability to manage a game and get his team in a position to be successful was on ultimate display during the run.
1. 2007 AFC Championship. Yes, this ranks higher than the Super Bowl win. For Manning to exorcise the playoff futility demons, nothing but an 18-point comeback against the nemesis New England Patriots would suffice. Early in the game, when Manning threw a pick-six to dig the Colts a 21-3 hole, I remember thinking that this would always be the outcome versus New England. A few hours later, I was jumping like a fool in my living room. It didn't matter that the Chicago Bears were the opponent in two weeks. (Though for the record, I was supremely confident the Colts would handle them as well.) The catharsis felt by beating New England in this game was felt by an entire city and nation of fans. For me, it is my ultimate Manning moment.
At the end of the day, sports is sports and the sun will rise regardless of what color jersey a man wears on Sunday afternoons. Still, unless you lived in Indianapolis or Indiana during Manning's career here, you can't quite understand the impact he had, even beyond sports. His charity work, well-documented as it is, probably still doesn't get the publicity it deserves. And it isn't a stretch to say that Manning's success ultimately led to the Super Bowl being played in Indy this year, which boosted the city to elite status in the eyes of even the most hardened detractors.
All of which makes Manning's departure difficult to swallow for reasons beyond wins and losses. But we all knew this day was coming. I think a lot of the disappointment Colts fans feel comes from the fact Manning was never given a proper send-off. His last time on the field as a Colt was a playoff loss to the New York Jets. It was unthinkable at the time that it would be the last time we'd see him wearing a horseshoe on his helmet. It an ending woefully unfit for a guy that has given so much on and off the field.
You feel me?