Colts' Flashback: Reliving Peyton Manning's First Career Start

Plenty of hype surrounded Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts' debut in 1998 against the Miami Dolphins at the RCA Dome. Manning showed flashes, but his struggles foretold what was to come in a rough rookie season.
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Join me as we take a trip down memory lane, all the way back to Sept. 6, 1998 to relive Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning's NFL debut. 

Manning, the much-ballyhooed No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, made his much anticipated NFL debut against the Miami Dolphins and future Hall of Famer Dan Marino at the sold-out RCA Dome — a 24-15 loss — marking the first time since 1989 that the old dome had sold out. 

I wonder what could have possibly led to it selling out in 1998?

Coming out of Tennessee and carrying the last name of Manning, hype was through the roof for the young man with the strong right arm and galaxy football brain that many (correctly) viewed as the franchise's savior. 

His debut was very rough though, foretelling what was to come in a rookie season that saw the Colts go 1-15 and Manning setting the NFL record for most interceptions in a rookie season at quarterback. 

Despite the struggles in his debut, Manning flashed plenty of elite-level plays, giving Colts fans something they hadn't had in awhile: hope. 

Following a 16-play opening drive by the Dolphins that chewed up nearly 10 minutes of game action before a 22-yard field goal by Olindo Mare that gave Miami a 3-0 lead, Manning trotted onto the field for his first official snaps as a Colt. 

On the first play from scrimmage, Manning hit future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk for 15 yards on a simple swing pass out of the backfield, marking the first career completion for the No. 1 overall pick, drawing a roar from the packed dome. 

Ten plays later following a heavy dose of the running game with Faulk and Zack Crockett, the backup running back fumbled deep in Miami territory, giving the Dolphins possession. 

Indianapolis' defense kept the Dolphins off the board after the turnover, giving the Colts possession once again. Right away, Manning hooked up with fellow Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison for 42 yards down the middle of the field, igniting the home crowd. 

Four plays after Manning's big hookup to Harrison, the Colts settled for a 52-yard field goal from rookie kicker Mike Vanderjagt, knotting the game at 3-3 early in the second quarter. 

Miami came right back as Marino hooked up with veteran receiver Orlando Gadsden for a 44-yard touchdown, embarrassing two Colts' defenders in the process, giving Miami a 10-3 lead on the road in Week 1. 

From there, things started to unravel for the Colts as Manning — backed up deep in his own territory following a short kickoff return by Aaron Bailey — threw his first career interception, hitting Miami cornerback Terrell Buckley right between the numbers on a slant route intended for Harrison.

Two plays after the Buckley interception, Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar scored from four yards out, making it 17-3 Miami midway through the second quarter, a lead they would take into the half.

In the second half, Manning started to get going offensively, avoiding the pass rusher (he was under siege much of the game) to hit favorite target tight end Marcus Pollard down the middle for 13 and 32 yards on back-to-back drives, but the offensive still had to settle for a Vanderjagt field goal to make it 17-6 early in the fourth quarter. 

As Indianapolis' defense stood tall on the other side of the ball, Manning and the Colts began to move the ball consistently as the No. 1 pick hit Harrison for 39 yards, and then found fellow rookie Jerome Pathon for gains of 13, 15, and seven yards, setting up another Vanderjagt field goal, making it 17-9 midway through the fourth quarter.

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It looked as though the Colts were going to mount a triumphant comeback in Manning's debut as the defense forced another Miami punt, but pinned deep in his own end again the rookie made another grave mistake.

Manning, targeting Harrison on a sideline route out of his own end zone, under threw the football right into Buckley's waiting arms. The veteran Miami corner returned his second interception of the game 21 yards for the touchdown, all but sealing the win. 

Credit to Manning though, as he took advantage of one final drive in his NFL debut, driving the Colts right down the field. 

Manning found Faulk for 14 yards, and then hit receiver Torrance Small across the middle for 16 yards, putting the Colts on the move. He then hit Small for another 16 yards, and then found tight end Ken Dilger for 13 yards, setting up his first career touchdown pass — a fade route to Harrison from 6 yards out — to close out the game. 

Though he threw three interceptions in the loss and was under pressure all game long, Manning showed flashes of greatness at times in his NFL debut, showing just what he could become throwing for 71,940 yards, 539 touchdowns and 251 interceptions on his way to two Super Bowl titles, five NFL MVPs, seven All-Pros and 14 Pro Bowl berths, leading to a Hall of Fame selection with the Class of 2021.

Do you recall any personal memories from Peyton Manning's NFL debut in 1998? Let us know in the comments section below! 


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