The End of the Manning Era

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. After months of lamenting the public PR battle and made-for-TV drama being produced by Colts owner Jim Irsay and quarterback Peyton Manning, Colts fans finally got what they wanted (and immediately regretted it): a resolution. Multiple sources report that, at press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Irsay will put the final nail in the era of Colts football that helped the NFL rethink offenses and helped reshape a state’s sports culture and landscape by announcing that the team has decided to part ways with Manning.

There will be plenty of time to dissect the decision to part ways with Manning in the coming days, weeks, months, and, yes, years. Was parting ways with Manning the right choice? Until we see how all parties involved perform no one – and if they tell you otherwise, they are just trying to sell you something – knows. Will Manning perform at a high level for years to come? Will Luck live up to the unrealistic hype and expectations that will be heaped upon him by the media, experts, and fans in the months leading up to the season opener? While it makes for interesting conversation and analysis, the focus, for one last time, should be on Manning and the Colts.

As player-fan relationships go, the one shared by Peyton Manning and Colts fans is unique. Through his rare combination of on-field talent and domination and off-field charm, quick-wit, and humor, Manning and the Colts cultivated a fiercely deep, loyal fan base not only in Indiana, but around the globe.

In Indianapolis, a city once in danger of losing the Colts to relocation, Manning’s influence is front and center. Not only did the success of his Colts teams help pave the way for a new state-of-the-art facility that would secure the Colts place in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future, but stop any resident, man or woman, young or old, and ask them for a their favorite “Manning Memory” and they’ll rattle off a hand full in no time. From his amazing comebacks against the Buccaneers, Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, and Patriots (did I mention Patriots), to his hilarious commercials and Saturday Night Live skits, Manning left an indelible mark on every Colts fan.

Across the state of Indiana, Manning’s influence helped convert a group of Hoosiers who ate, slept, and breathed basketball into true “Blue Bloods” (on sale now). Aided by the decline of the local college basketball teams and the retirement of Reggie Miller, by the early 2000s, Indiana was a Horseshoe state through and through.

Around the globe, the success of Manning’s teams helped turn the Colts into a global brand. To help you understand how far Peyton’s influence reached, here’s a list of countries from which Colts Authority gets hits: The U.S., Canada, eh, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, England, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Australia (these are separate!?), Wales, Italy and Massachusetts. As great as our writing is, none of this would be possible if not the enormous success (and likability) of the Manning-led Colts.

But the relationship went beyond that. It was more than just an appreciation of talent, of skill, of success, more than just rooting for a guy because he put up great stats. Somewhere along the way, Peyton Manning became “ours”. At some point being a Colts fan often meant more than just rooting for the team on game days, it also meant defending Peyton against the media labels of “choker” and “greedy”.

At some points, after the rise in popularity of the NFL Network and twitter, defending Peyton and the Colts seemed like a part-time job. It was worth it to Colts fans, though, as they knew that they would be vindicated in the end. They knew that Manning, already a Super Bowl champion, would have a good shot at at least one more legacy-cementing title before his career ended. On top of that, Colts fans understood that their unbreakable hero would soon be rewriting the record books, a feat that not even the most staunch Manning detractors could ignore.

And then, suddenly, without warning, it was over. Sure, there are some nice vocabulary words we could use to explain and understand the situation – discectomy, spinal fusion, nerve regeneration, Andrew Luck – but the reality is, whatever the reasoning, some time soon, Peyton Manning will sign with some other team. He’ll become some other fan base’s unbreakable hero.

Colts fans are out of a job, but there was no better job to have from 1998-2011. He’s no longer “ours”. Maybe the reality of sports is that he was never really “ours” in the first place.

To the Peyton-era Colts: Thank you for everything.