The New York Giants and New England Patriots will square off in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI, just in case anyone happened to be vacationing on the moon for the past year or so. Just thinking about it still seems a little unreal: the biggest sporting event in the country will be held in our backyard. Who would have thought such a thing would ever be possible 10, even 5 years ago?
The decision to have Indianapolis host the Super Bowl was met with some hesitation and skepticism – mostly from the national media, who are as concerned with the climate and nightlife of the host city as they are with the Super Bowl itself – and everyone was convinced that they would only be forced to suffer through one Indianapolis Super Bowl. But a funny thing happened on the way to writing that, “It’s so cold, we’re all huddled up, trying to decided if we should eat Peter King” column: the great people of Indiana won over the national media.
From bummer to bright spot in just a weekend, the national message has quickly become about how great Indianapolis is. Of course, if you’ve ever been to the city, you know why the media is falling in love: hospitality, a well-designed city that has everything you need within walking distance, and enough of the “big city feel” without too many of the big city inconveniences. Regardless of the game on Sunday, that the media gave the city a chance, and that the host committee and all of the workers and volunteers delivered, have already made the Indianapolis Super Bowl a success on a few levels.
And what of the game on Sunday? Removing team allegiances for just a moment, the NFL, the city of Indianapolis, and NFL fans everywhere should be thrilled: Giants vs. Patriots promises to be one of the most exciting and dramatic Super Bowls in recent memory. The fact that both teams happen to be from large markets with fans who travel well? Well, no one will complain about that, either. In a great twist of irony, however, the hype, hysteria, hoopla, and the celebration of a great game and a great city are in danger of being overshadowed by the one person responsible for bringing the Super Bowl to Indianapolis in the first place, Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning is one of the most important sports figures in Indianapolis History. Through his play on the field, Manning helped morph Indiana from a state that was all basketball all the time, to a state of football-loving maniacs. His intelligence and football sense lead to numerous offensive innovations. The success of the Manning-led Colts paved the way for the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium. And it was the construction of Peyton’s Place that allowed Indianapolis to bid on and win the right to host the 2012 Super Bowl.
It is not, however, Manning’s greatness, his contributions to the game, or his effect on the city of Indianapolis that is overshadowing the Super Bowl festivities, but his health. Rumors resurfaced this week that Manning was on the verge of retiring. Multiple media outlets have cited multiple sources stating what many of us have feared for some time: the nerve regeneration in Manning’s arm is not nearly fast or complete enough to give them hope that the quarterback will physically be able to play in 2012.
The thought of Manning retirement is a tough one to deal with. Surely, the Indianapolis Colts will miss Manning, the man who brought them legitimacy, money, and on-field success. The NFL, who broke away from their normal “sell the team, not the player” mantra as they pushed Peyton into the spotlight, will miss one of their most marketable stars. And the people of Indianapolis, many of whom revere Manning as much as their basketball heroes from years ago, will ache at the sight of some non-Manning quarterback leading their Colts onto the field.
But while Manning’s part in bringing the Super Bowl to Indianapolis should be remembered and honored, whatever his status for 2012 happens to be – whether he retires or makes some miraculous comeback – should not be a part of the festivities. There will be a time to deal with it, to deal with the emotions, to deal with the sadness (or the joy), and to deal with, as some Colts fans have come to call his absence, “The Manning Vacuum.” There will be a time to celebrate his success on the field, the wins, the touchdowns, the records. There will be a time to honor his work in the community. There will be a time to thank him and to let him know that, despite growing up in New Orleans and going to school in Tennessee, he’s one of us, he’s a Hoosier.
But that time is not on Super Bowl Media Day. It’s not on the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday leading up to the big game. It’s certainly not Super Bowl Sunday. No, this week is not about Manning, it is not about nerve regeneration, retirement, or Rob Lowe’s twitter account. This is a week for Peyton’s brother and his biggest rival to soak up the attention, the coverage, and the accolades and enjoy, however begrudgingly, the spotlight. This week is about the celebration of a city and of a game.
Starting Monday, we will have the rest of our off-season, our summer, our lives to discuss, honor, and celebrate everything that Manning means to the game, the city, and to us.