Stealing the Thorny Crown

Indiana is a simple place, really. You can size it up quickly. There’s no complicated topography. There’re some hills in the south and some lakes in the north, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. It’s flat.

Flat can be deceiving.

Flat makes distance hard to judge. Objects are always further away than they appear. Nothing sneaks up on you in Indiana. You have a feel for that water tower a mile or so before you get to it. Of course, you can’t read the graffiti until you get up close.

Hoosiers are like so many water towers. You see them; you size them up, but don’t expect to read them from afar.

 

Michael Weinreb came to Indianapolis recently. Our lack of flash mobs disappointed him.

His conclusion after talking to the editor of Nuvo, a museum curator, Bob Kravitz, and a professor was that Hoosiers don’t really love Peyton Manning. 

“He could have been the king of this town, if he wanted to be,” said David Hoppe.

The carpetbaggers never plagued Indiana the way they invaded the South. It’s ironic, because Indy has always lusted after their attention, or at least their money. For as long as I can remember, Indianapolis was a city that craved the spotlight, the chance to show the world that we were just as good or better than anyone else. We begged and cajoled the carpetbaggers to come, to notice us. We relished the Pacers and Knicks for all the reasons many have mentioned before. At least they were paying attention to us.

After reading Weinreb’s piece, however, it is clear to me how little New York understands Indiana. Maybe we are just too flat.

According to Weinreb’s exhaustive interview of a handful (and clearly representative sample) of people living in Indiana (most not even Hoosiers), Peyton Manning isn’t really beloved, never lived up to expectations, doesn’t own the city, was too down-home and personable, and should never have made all those funny commercials because now no one takes him seriously.

I don’t want to mock or ridicule Weinreb. His piece wasn’t malicious. It was just so profoundly wrong and out of step with the way people around here feel, that I marvel at how badly he missed the essence of what Peyton Manning means to Indiana.

Comparing Manning to Bob Knight or even Reggie Miller is utterly beside the point. Knight was always hated by a good chunk of the state, and he was ultimately ushered out by his own doings after his considerable talents eroded past the point where we could over look his flaws. As for Reggie Miller, as beloved as he was, even in the late 90s, there was not a 31 jersey hanging in every closet. Reggie was special and electric, but he was never transcendent. He did not change Indiana. He wasn’t even the greatest basketball hero the state has ever had. Not by a long shot. He hasn’t been gone 10 years, and now we shower his chant on a football player.

Peyton Manning changed Indiana.

What people like Bob Kravitz have never understood is what this state was like before he got here. I’m not going to rewrite Blue Blood here and now, but after a decade of Peyton Manning, high school football outdraws high school basketball.

Peyton Manning isn’t king of Indianapolis?

We built the man a football palace.

His number hangs in every closet and every back come Sundays in the fall. People love everything about him, ESPECIALLY his commercials. Fail to take him seriously? The whole city has been in mourning for the past 8 months. What Weinreb read as disinterest is just emotional exhaustion. People have been dying inside since August. No, I’m not taking to the streets in Februrary. I broke down in September and cried at my desk in December. I’m spent. We all are.

There was a pocket of people that blamed Peyton that there was ‘only’ one Super Bowl. That much is true. Those people also shut up permanently after the 2011 season. What dissenters remained were forever silenced by watching the same team that had made the playoffs in 2010 completely implode without Peyton. There are no doubters left. There are plenty of people who actually blame the Colts for failing him. 

So no, no one’s taking to the streets to protest. There’s nothing to protest. No one even knows if Peyton is healthy. We’ve been battered by rumors of impending retirement, secret surgeries, last ditch attempts to take the field. We’ve no angst left for a flash mob. At this point, most Hoosiers just hope he’s ok. Yeah, we are pragmatic. How else can we feel at this point? He’s going to leave. Everyone hopes he’ll stay, but this is Indiana. No one really believes it possible that he’d choose us over Miami or New York. No one ever does. People want the best for Peyton. It’s hard to see how that’s Indianapolis at this point. Just writing those words tears me apart. It’s like admitting defeat.

The Peyton Manning saga has been dragging on since August. It’s been hard on the city watching our greatest hero just vanish. He was here with us every week for years, and with little warning he was just…gone. Can you imagine, even IMAGINE, what it would be like if Peyton showed up in public? He’d be swarmed. He’s the most recognizable face in town. People hang on his every word. Peyton Manning couldn’t be any more the king of Indianapolis if he started wearing a blue robe, crown, and pranced about calling himself the “Prince of Catfish” (we don’t really have whales around here. We make do with what we’ve got).

There’s no point in trying to express how deeply this city feels about Peyton Manning. You either get it or you don’t. Yeah, I have four Peyton Manning jerseys in my closet. Who doesn’t at this point? No, I’m not the least bit impartial when it comes to Peyton Manning. No Hoosier is. How can anyone interview a guy who grew up in Minnesota rooting for John Unitas and think his opinion is indicative of how Indiana feels about Manning? It baffles me.

Nuvo? Really? I mean…really?

Weinreb came to Indianapolis and saw what he expected, or didn’t see what he expected. Either way, he packed his note pad, recorder, and type-writer in his shag-lined satchel and went back to New York to spin his yarn about how the yokels like their southern-white savior, but they don’t like-like him.

I mean, all they do is name their kids after him.

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