The night of Aug. 8, 2021, will be one that Indianapolis Colts fans remember forever.
It will not be remembered for a comeback victory over the rival New England Patriots, nor a star quarterback suddenly retiring and leaving in a teary-eyed press conference.
Tears were shed this night, but tears of joy and pride.
For Colts fans, Sunday night marked the culmination of the journey for a once-in-a-lifetime football talent and a man that many consider as much a part of their lives as some family members.
The man simply known as "Peyton" around these parts was officially enshrined and welcomed into football immortality as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Since 1998, Peyton Manning has been the adopted son of Indianapolis. The Colts selected Manning with the first pick in the NFL draft to save a franchise that was, for many years, the laughing stock of the league. Not only did he save the franchise, but he also took it to heights never thought possible.
The Colts became a perennial Super Bowl contender with Manning under center, and the city of Indianapolis' reputation became something new as well. It used to be known for auto racing and basketball. Manning turned Indianapolis into a rabid football community where fans gather every Sunday in the fall donning blue and white.
“To Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts organization, my gratitude is off the charts,” Manning said during his induction speech. “You drafted me in 1998 and it was a joy and a privilege to represent the Horseshoe.”
Manning represented the Horseshoe better than anyone, putting the Colts on the map. His incredible work ethic and preparation inspired not only the city but the entire state of Indiana. His record-shattering performances and antics at the line of scrimmage allured a fanbase to fall in love with their star quarterback.
But most of all, it was the dedication to his team and the passion he displayed every Sunday that solidified his place in the hearts of Colts fans. He went from a 3-13 record as a rookie to delivering a championship back to the Hoosier state in Super Bowl XLI. Manning gave his all for the Colts and Indianapolis both on the field and in the community, something fans will always remember and be eternally grateful for.
Manning broke almost every record imaginable for a quarterback during his illustrious career. At the time of his retirement, after 18 seasons with the Colts and Denver Broncos, he held the record for most career passing yards (71,940), career passing touchdowns (539), single-season passing yards (5,477), single-season passing touchdowns (55), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14), consecutive seasons with 25 passing touchdowns (13), and total wins (201).
The accolades did not stop there. Manning was elected to the Pro Bowl 14 times, selected as a First-Team All-Pro seven times, won five NFL MVP awards, and was selected to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s. If it was possible to win for a quarterback, Manning took home the hardware.
Throughout his Hall of Fame speech, Manning displayed three of his most endearing qualities. One of those qualities, and a primary reason he broke so many records and received so many accolades, was his unrivaled preparation. Manning always said nobody was going to beat him because they were more prepared or worked harder than he had.
His legendary preparation was on full display Sunday night. Manning has always had enormous respect for the history of the game and the great players that have come before him. This was displayed as he told the story of a dream he had a few nights prior, of him playing with his new Hall of Fame teammates.
“The other team's coaches were Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown,” Manning recalled. “My coaches — Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson. That's right: A Cowboy and a Steeler working together. Only in Canton, Ohio.
“We were on the 50-yard line with only three seconds left in the game,” Manning continued. “Coach Cowher called a running play. I said, 'Coach, I'm going to have to audible.' Omaha! I called a pass play. My bust faked a handoff to Barry Sanders. I threw a 20-yard break-in route to Michael Irvin right as Deacon Jones and Ray Nitschke hit me at the same time. Irvin, as he was getting tackled by Ronnie Lott, then lateraled to Steve Largent, who was in a footrace down the sideline with Darrell Green and Lem Barney.”
He concluded, “The savvy Largent, knowing he couldn't win a footrace with Darrell Green, then lateraled back to Lance Alworth, who dove into the end zone for the game-winning score.”
In all, Manning named 32 different Hall of Famers in his speech, including some of his former teammates and personnel with the Colts. Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Bill Polian, and Tony Dungy are all former Colts that Manning will be joining in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With guys like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis not in yet or still to become eligible, there’s a good chance he will be joined by other former Colts teammates.
Another aspect that Manning is admired for is his ability to joke and make anyone smile.
He poked fun at Ray Lewis for being the reason speeches were limited time-wise this year.
“The 2021 induction class wants to thank those previous inductees who gave longwinded acceptance speeches, forcing us to have a whopping six minutes to recap our football careers,” Manning joked. “I want to give a special thanks to my old rival, Ray Lewis, for being here tonight. Ray just finished giving his speech that he started in 2018.”
He also poked fun at longtime rival and friend Tom Brady.
“My good friend Tom Brady is here tonight,” he said as Brady was met with a loud chorus of boos. “By the time Tom Brady is inducted in his first year of eligibility in the year 2035, he'll only have time to post his acceptance speech on his Instagram account.”
No matter the situation, Manning has been able to use that Louisiana charm to crack jokes and bring joy.
While his preparation and good-heartedness are well known, Manning has always been an incredible ambassador for the game of football. The face of the league since the early 2000s, he was an impeccable representative for the NFL throughout his playing career. His message in Canton was that we all need to continue to be ambassadors, promoting the game that we love and fueling the passion for the next generation of football fans.
“We have inherited the history of this sport, even helped create it,” Manning remarked. “But our responsibility cannot stop there. If we simply relive history and don't ignite the future of the sport, then we're not doing football justice.
“Throughout our lives as players, coaches, staffs, and fans, we've become essential to the sports landscape," he continued. "I don't know about you but I'm not done with this game. I never will be. I'm committed to ensuring its future, and I hope you will join me in that commitment.”
Manning has been doing this since he stepped onto the field as the Colts’ quarterback. Think of all of the people who would not be Colts fans, or even fans of football in general, without Manning. There is likely not an NFL team in Indianapolis any longer, nor one of the best stadiums in the NFL in Lucas Oil Stadium standing proudly amongst the Indy skyline.
“During the past few years, the game of football has been challenged by an explosion of sports and entertainment options,” Manning explained. “Safety concerns, erupting social-justice issues and a worldwide pandemic. Displaced fans have taken on an entirely new meaning, as our stadiums have been shut down and fans shut out. We certainly shouldn't walk away now.”
Manning’s message was a powerful one, and one that both players and fans can all take part in: Do not let this game die out.
“The audience here tonight is made up of diehard fans who feel football deep in your bones,” Manning concluded. “Now, we may have ignited the fire, but you, you have fanned the flames. Inevitably, those flames will be whipped by the winds of change, but they don't need to smolder. The future of this game is ours to shape. We just need to take tomorrow on our shoulders as readily as we donned our pads before each game. Let this moment become a cherished memory, and then remember: A legacy is only worthwhile when there is a future to fuel.”
This is what Manning has always done and continues to do. It should be what we all continue to do.
Manning ignited and fueled the fire in so many football fans around the world. Kids of all ages would call audibles in their backyards, yelling out “Omaha!” before they would snap the ball. A generation grew up on touchdown passes, theatrics at the line of scrimmage, and humble responses on comments about his greatness.
Personally, he fueled the fire for football in me. Without Peyton Manning, I am not covering the Colts nor am I as big a fan of the game as I am today. And it is our duty as fans of football to continue fueling the fire and passion for years to come.
My final message to #18 is the same seven words he ended on tonight.
Peyton, God bless you, and God bless football.
What is your favorite Peyton Manning memory? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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