Indianapolis Colts fans already know what life without Peyton Manning is like. Playing without the future Hall of Fame quarterback last season is what set his departure from the franchise in motion.
The Colts and Manning officially parted ways Wednesday, March 14 after 14 seasons that included a Super Bowl title in 2007, his four MVP awards, more than 50,000 yards passing, and the turnaround of his team from NFL doormat to perennial playoff contender.
Until last season.
Manning, who turns 36 on March 24, had started 227 consecutive games for the Colts until surgeries to repair nerve damage in his neck kept him out all of the 2011 season. Indianapolis dropped to 2-14 with Manning on the sideline. The dismal season clinched the No. 1 overall pick in next month’s NFL draft for the Colts, who are expected to use it on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Rather than pay an aging quarterback whose health is suspect, the $28 million Manning was due by Thursday. Colts owner Jim Irsay decided to release the QB who has been the face of the franchise since he was the No. 1 pick out of the University of Tennessee in 1998.
Manning and Irsay appeared together Wednesday at a press conference in Indianapolis, where each fought back tears.
“Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL,” Manning said.
Irsay said no other Colt will ever wear Manning’s No. 18 on the field. “This is difficult because of the things Peyton has done for our city, our state and our franchise,” the owner said.
The Manning-led Colts’ success led to the building of Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008 and hosted Indianapolis’ first Super Bowl last month. His charitable work led to St. Vincent’s Children’s Hospital in the city being renamed Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Manning has also become the NFL’s most recognizable pitchman in television commercials.
Colts fans, including Mike Peduto, owner of Circle City Tickets in Indianapolis, have seen it coming, but it doesn’t make the exit of an icon in Indy any easier.
“Maybe one fourth of the fans think: ‘They’re crazy for letting this guy go,’ ” Peduto told TicketNews. “I think those of us in Indianapolis realized it was going to be an all-or-nothing scenario. They couldn’t have [Manning and Luck] both. It’s a decision by Irsay to go in another direction.”
Manning’s departure is the biggest part of an organizational shakeup that also included the firing of coach Jim Caldwell and longtime team vice chairman Bill Polian immediately after the season.
As the losses piled up, without Manning, Peduto said season ticket holders, who faced a March 2 renewal deadline, began to realize that rebuilding behind Luck — perhaps the most-highly touted QB prospect to come out of college since Manning — was in the Colts’ future.
“We’ve been dealing with fans selling their season tickets like some do every year,” Peduto said. “We just realize we’re not going to be paying as much and selling them for as much with the team coming off such a terrible year. It helps to have the best QB prospect since Manning coming in to sell around, if he is the can’t-miss guy that they say he is.”
Manning has been working out with former teammates and said he’s healthy enough to continue playing. That sets up quite a free agent derby for the quarterback who led the Colts to eight division titles, two AFC championships, and a Super Bowl XLI victory.
Rumored destinations include the New York Jets, which would put Manning in the same city as his brother Eli, who has led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl championships, including just last month in Indianapolis. Another suitor could be the Washington Redskins, who play in the NFC East, where Peyton would face Eli’s Giants twice a year. Other possibilities: the Miami Dolphins (Peyton Manning has a home in South Florida), Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, or Seattle Seahawks.
Look for a surge in ticket sales wherever Manning lands.
“Peyton’s not going to get $28 million for one year no matter where he goes now,” Peduto said. “Maybe you could’ve made him part owner, but you gotta play the kid that’s coming in. Fans just want Peyton to go somewhere and be happy I think. We want him to do well in every game — except when he plays the Colts.”