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BY ANGIE SIX
I’d like to think my son, Eli, is good luck for Peyton Manning. Eli’s first game in the presence of Peyton was the 2006 AFC Championship game, when the Indianapolis Colts came back from an 18-point deficit to beat the New England Patriots. The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl that year, Manning’s first and only Super Bowl win. You’ll have to forgive Eli for not remembering that epic playoff game as vividly as I do; he attended in utero, making his way into this world the following August.
Not knowing the gender of the baby during that magical season, I made a deal with my husband. If the Colts won it all, we'd name the baby Peyton. Within minutes of the Super Bowl’s final whistle, he looked over at me and said, "I can't do it. I can't name this baby Peyton if it's a boy." Naturally I went with the next best Manning name after Peyton, and the following August Eli was born. (Can it be noted that Eli Manning and the New York Giants went on to win the Super Bowl the following year? Perhaps my Eli is good luck for the entire Manning family.)
It took a few years for Eli to witness Peyton in action for the first time outside the womb. Last November we took him to see the Colts play the Broncos. While the Broncos lost that day, I’d like to think Eli’s presence will give Peyton an auspicious advantage in Super Bowl 50.
I’m a Colts fan through and through, but that doesn’t keep me or the rest of central Indiana from cheering on our former quarterback now that our team is out of the playoffs. Peyton’s legacy is strong and untarnished in Indianapolis. Unlike Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay as a Viking, nobody boos Manning when he returns to Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s not unusual for a Hoosier to own both a Broncos and a Colts jersey. Go into any school in Indiana and ask a gym full of kids how many are named Peyton. You’ll get more than a few raised hands. While we might root against him when he plays the Colts, we root for him when it comes to everything he’s done for the city of Indianapolis. Lucas Oil Stadium, along with the honor of hosting Super Bowl in 2012, would not have been possible without Manning’s success here. Across town, one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals bears the Manning name and benefits from his hands-on support.
There isn’t a single Colts fan who wouldn’t rather see our team representing the AFC in the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. But the consensus in Indy is this: If not the Colts, then please let it be anybody other than the New England Patriots. And if there’s anyone we’d like to see hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy other than Andrew Luck, it’s Peyton Manning.
We root for Peyton because he understands how Hoosiers tick: Show up, work hard and don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. That’s the Midwestern way.
More than 450,000 Indianapolis-area households tuned into the AFC Championship Game last weekend, trailing the Boston and Denver markets, but not by much. Our house was most definitely included in that number. When Peyton Manning took a knee as the confetti began to fall, my kids witnessed me perform a most-embarrassing victory dance followed by tears of joy. I may be a little more emotionally invested in Peyton Manning than the average Colts fan, but I’m by no means an outlier.
On Super Bowl Sunday we’ll tune in to see Manning face off against Cam Newton. A more polarizing figure than Manning, for sure, but he doesn’t evoke the strong feelings of rivalry that Tom Brady does here in Indiana. Cam has two things on his side that Peyton doesn’t: youth and time. Manning fans from Indianapolis to Denver recognize that this is probably the end. Cam will most likely find himself here again, leaving Manning fans like myself beseeching the football gods: “Please, just one more for Peyton.”
There is a genuine spirit of appreciation for Peyton here in Indianapolis, as opposed to the bitterness one might expect. While some football fans may not care once the Colts are out of it, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wishes Peyton ill. He is a special guy, one who is humble in victory and gracious in defeat. We root for Peyton because he understands how Hoosiers tick. You show up, you work hard, you don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You don't brag or trash-talk. You do things the right way, the quiet way, and believe that one day you'll be respected for it. That's the Midwestern way. We’d like to think he took that part of us with him to Denver.
The NFL would like us to believe that Football is Family. If that is true, Peyton is as much a son of Indianapolis as Eli is a son of mine. Win or lose this Super Bowl, play another five years or retire in a month, Peyton Manning is part of the Indianapolis Colts’ football family. Football families, like blood families, are not static. They move, expand, and change. The Denver Broncos may not be our team, but Peyton will always be a part of us.