On the separation of Manning and Indy

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
8:53
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Colts FansScott Boehm/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning led the Colts to 19 playoff games and a championship in Super Bowl XLI.
Just a few weeks ago, a high-tech decal of the Lombardi Trophy rose above Indianapolis, stuck to the city’s newest skyscraper, the J.W. Marriott. The building is an easy walk from the Indianapolis Colts' home field, Lucas Oil Stadium.

It sounds like hyperbole to suggest that the city never would have had the hotel or stadium or Super Bowl without Peyton Manning. But it’s true.

A franchise that snuck out of Baltimore in March 1984 to make a new home in Indiana played 14 seasons before Manning’s arrival in 1998.

Before him, the Colts played in five playoff games and maxed out at 9-7, a record they hit five times.

With him, the Colts won at least 10 games 11 times and played in 19 playoff games, including two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLI.

In those 14 years, he took a region that had been basketball country and altered its sporting course and preference.

Bill Polian drafted Manning and was fired after the 2011 Colts went 2-14 without the injured quarterback. Next week, Polian will join ESPN as an NFL analyst. He talked to "SportsCenter" about Manning after the news broke.

“He ignited a fever for football in the state, and Indiana was a basketball state before Peyton came there,” Polian said. “It’s a football state now, producing more Division I football players than ever before.”

The shock of the separation is minimized only because we’ve seen it coming for so long.

While I’ve spent a lot of time in Indianapolis, and feel I have a sense of the place, I cannot pretend to know it as a hometown.

I do know many people with Indianapolis and Indiana addresses, though. And through them I know how deep the affection for Manning runs, how truly many who rooted for him every Sunday feel he represented their city and state.

It’s a place that prides itself on hard work and he epitomized a hardworking football player, with grit for sure, but with plenty of grace, too.

Indianapolis may have had plenty of time to get ready for the official news that the team and Manning are parting ways -- an announcement will come Wednesday.

But for those who pledged their loyalty to the Colts while Manning was making them relevant, no degree of prep time will make it easier to see him don a helmet without a horseshoe on it.

A percentage of fans won’t be able to watch him play for someone else. But I suspect many more will find it harder not to watch him. When a guy’s done that much to endear himself to you and to help shine a positive light on your city, it takes more than a change of uniform to sever the tie, particularly when the divorce was out of his control.

In Indianapolis, as Colts fans check out the new quarterback -- Andrew Luck is the presumed successor -- many people won’t be able to help checking on the old one, too.

The Lombardi Trophy decal that stood so tall over Indianapolis during a wonderful Super Bowl week came down shortly after the game.

The huge banner of Manning on the city-facing side of Lucas Oil Stadium will soon follow in a face-lifting move.

No matter how long Indianapolis had to brace for it, this separation still stings.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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