INDIANAPOLIS -- The sports landscape in Indiana had a different look before the Colts selected quarterback Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998.
It was basketball (NBA, college and high school), auto racing and then every other sport.
Manning changed how the NFL was looked at during his 13-year career in Indianapolis. His talent, desire to become the face of the franchise and ability to make the Colts playoff regulars made Indiana a football, basketball and auto racing state.
“I recall watching an interview from back when he got drafted and he said the Colts, he felt like, were a team that everybody circled on their scheduled as an automatic win,” Colts punter Pat McAfee said. “He said he wanted to be a leader on the team and create a Colts team that the people of Indianapolis could be a fan of and a team that the city could get behind."
It didn't take long for Manning reach his goal, but he was up against history.
The Indiana Pacers, led by future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, had won 58 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals the year before Manning arrived. The Pacers had also made the playoffs in eight of the previous nine seasons. Bob Knight was finishing a run in which Indiana University made 15 straight NCAA tournament appearances. And the Indianapolis 500 is the premier auto racing event each year.
Success wasn’t the same for the Colts. They had four different head coaches and only reached the playoffs twice in the 10 seasons before selecting Manning.
Manning was named league Most Valuable Player four times and threw for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns while with Indianapolis. The Colts went 141-67, went to the playoffs 11 times and to two Super Bowls.
“He turned the average football fan into a real football fan,” Pacers president and Hall of Famer Larry Bird said. “People would go to the games and watch the games, but until [the Colts] got Peyton, they weren’t talked about all the time. What he did here throughout his career was above and behind anything anybody else has ever done. Reggie [Miller] had great runs, but this guy was the best at one time. He had a number of years where he was not only the best football player, but he was probably the best athlete as far as getting things accomplished than anybody in any profession.”
The Colts’ success with Manning played a significant part in them moving from the RCA Dome to Lucas Oil Stadium, which hosted Super Bowl XLVI. Manning also has the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles recalled a time in 2005 when he arrived in Japan for a race and the driver who picked him up at the airport could barely speak English. But when Boles told him he was from Indianapolis, the driver said, “Indianapolis Colts.”
“So not only did [Manning] transform us here -- he gave us another identity globally,” Boles said. “There’s probably not a more transformative figure, certainly in sports and maybe even beyond that, in the Indianapolis market. Peyton becoming the superstar that they expected him to be and then not only delivering on the field, but just the way he engaged this community, the state, with the things he did. I can’t think of another athlete, maybe Reggie Miller a little bit around the Pacers. But we were already a basketball city.
“I think [Manning’s] personality and his work ethic and the way he led through with leadership was really what made it easy to fall in love with not only the winning, but also fall in love with the Colts and it really becoming a football town.”