INDIANAPOLIS -- One by one, the players started to depart in the winter of 2012. Their services were no longer needed by the Indianapolis Colts. Some were traded. Some left through free agency or were released.
Among those was the signal-caller who had made the franchise relevant again. He led them to a Super Bowl title and played a significant part in getting Lucas Oil Stadium built.
Quarterback Peyton Manning's time had come and gone in Indianapolis. It was time to say goodbye and close the 13-year chapter on No. 18.
That’s simply the facts of the NFL. Players come and go.
A new Colts regime entered with their own philosophy of who they wanted on the roster.
General manager Ryan Grigson cleaned house when he took over in early January 2012. The only starting holdovers from when Manning took his last snap at quarterback for the Colts -- a playoff loss to the New York Jets on Jan. 8, 2011 -- are receivers Reggie Wayne, linebacker Robert Mathis, punter Pat McAfee and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
The Colts didn’t call it rebuilding. They referred to it as reloading.
“When the new coaching staff and GM came in, there were a lot of changes, but they brought in that winning philosophy, that family philosophy and trust, loyalty, respect,” Vinatieri said. “Those are slogans we live by and that has allowed us to stay competitive and stay good and keep climbing in the right direction.”
Winning is something the Colts have done quite a bit since Manning left.
Quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 and successor to Manning, has led the Colts to 22 victories and back-to-back playoff berths since the dark clouds hung over the city following Manning's release.
“I saw the way Mr. Grigson, how he was putting things in order, the type of guys he was bringing in, it showed from that point on they were trying to win,” Wayne said. “Were we surprised? Nah. Coach Pagano he preaches different things over and over again. They got the right guys to buy into the system, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Manning’s name will always be cemented in the state of Indiana and inside the team’s facility. The Colts were 141-67, went to the playoffs 11 times and to two Super Bowls with him as their quarterback.
“This used to be an Indiana Pacers town," McAfee said. "I think (Manning) turned it around, made the Colts a winning team, a relevant team in the NFL. But in the NFL you have to live in the now and I think as soon as we lost guys like Peyton, Jeff [Saturday] and other guys, you kind of have to keep it moving and that’s what we all did. We all bought into the new team.
“You can never forget what they did for our city, but once you get on the Andrew Luck and brand new Colts train you’re excited to be here. I think that’s what we did.”
There were a lot of emotions last October when Manning faced his former team for the first time. By the end, though, Lucas Oil Stadium was the loudest it had ever been, according to McAfee, as the Colts beat the Denver Broncos.
Manning vs. the Colts Part II is Sunday in Denver. And just like last year, the Colts will shake hands with their former franchise player and then try to beat him again.
“During the season, Peyton is a friend, but at the same time, he’s the enemy,” Wayne said. “He’s trying to beat us and we’re trying to beat him. We understand the process, we know once we sign a name on the dotted line what the possibilities are. There are a lot of guys -- not just Peyton -- that I played with that at some point in time I’ll go up against. It’s just part of it and you have to deal with it.”