Before the news broke, I felt at ease. I was prepared to handle the inevitable. Peyton Manning would no longer be a Colt and I told myself that I’d be fine. I was ready for the Andrew Luck era and I knew what it might bring, but I still held onto the smallest ounce of hope that I may get to tell my future kids about watching the greatest of all time, retire a Colt. Even with a perfect storm brewing to create the surefire Hall of Famer’s departure, many of us thought we were "prepared" to hear the expected news.
And many of us thought wrong.
It’s never easy to hear that your childhood hero will part with the very fabric that made him, well, your childhood hero. Chicago had Michael Jordan. San Francisco had Joe Montana. Some things are just. . .normal. Peyton Manning as a Colt is the only thing we've come to know. My mother, who has maybe watched a handful of football games in her entire life, immediately can tell you what team Manning plays for. Even she knows he’s a Colt (guess I should get used to using the past tense). And that impact, which he’s left on so many of us, is why this news just isn’t easy to digest. Regardless of how you want to spin it, a somber cloud steadily covers Indianapolis. That cloud won’t recede for a while, friends. I’m not sure how long it’ll be, but it’s going to take time to heal. I feel like I just lost someone very close to me.
But, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t a funeral. No one has departed this world.
I grew up watching Peyton Manning toss dimes through the RCA Dome’s atmosphere. He was my childhood hero. Players that we grew to love came and went throughout Manning’s time as a Colt. We didn’t forget about them, but with Manning, it’s clearly different. There was no doubt that Manning would transform into the ultimate symbol of the horseshoe, but there was even less doubt that he would retire a Colt. The end of the Manning-era would take part on a beautiful day, marked with great celebration and most of all, a storybook finish that would end on Manning’s terms. If you told any of us—I don’t care who you are, either—that Peyton Manning wouldn’t be carrying the horseshoe on his helmet in 2012 and beyond, you’d be looked at like you were crazier than some of Jim Irsay’s tweets. But, the harsh realization that is business, ultimately rules all. And, all good things must come to an end. Those clichés are, well, terribly true.
But, please don’t sing me a song full of sorrow, don’t give any eulogies, and try to fight back those tears.
Here’s why we should celebrate this day: Peyton Manning and Indianapolis are forever synonymous. Peyton knows it. We know it. They forever exist as one. It may feel like they have separated on bad terms. You may even feel like Mr. Irsay pushed Manning out the door for some young, unproven stud. But please, look past those feelings. If you love Peyton Manning and everything he's done for this town, you simply know that it’s for the best. As much as I wanted to see him finish his career in the blue and white, I just want to see him excel and continue to play. And to say that because Manning is finished in Indianapolis, simply because his name will no longer be listed on the depth chart, is just dead wrong.
Every street you walk down in Indianapolis is better because of #18. The great fans who walk down those streets, every day, will tell you as much. I can feel it every time I take the two hour drive to my "second home". His touch, whether it is on the field or through the crowded streets of Indianapolis during this February's Super Bowl, will always remain. The stadium that the presumptive number one pick will call home? The house that Manning built. The championship banners that hang above his head? The Manning-era Colts earned those. The game that Andrew Luck plays? Manning transcended it. The horseshoe on his trusty helmet? You already guessed it — That horseshoe was pushed far beyond the standard of excellence by Manning. This man’s legacy cannot be forfeited because of a business transaction, but only further cemented and remembered. The fourteen years that Manning graced the grid iron in Indianapolis will likely be the best years of football that many of us will ever live to see.
The record-setting year in 2004. The AFC Championship game in 2006. The Lombardi that was brought home in 2007. The record nine-straight playoff appearances. You cannot cut those. You can never cut all of our cherished memories.
Peyton Manning is no longer a Colt. That much is true. But when the sun sets on Indianapolis tonight, it will forever be remembered as a day that concluded an era which changed the way we view the game. Yes, an era has been "completed", but the legacy of #18 thrives on in Indianapolis and through the game that we love so much.
Thank you, Peyton.
"Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback." -Peyton Manning