As I have watched the press conference replay and replay today in Indianapolis. One thought comes to mind. Sometimes, two people who truly love, respect and admire each other simply cannot live together and it results in a divorce. Today’s divorce in Indianapolis is just a sad state of affairs. Neither side wanted it but it was unavoidable. What Peyton Manning means to Indianapolis cannot be described in just football terms, although those adjectives are plentiful.
Peyton Manning helped build the Colts franchise – in fact, Forbes estimates that he helped raise the value of the team by $233 million in his 14-year tenure. At the same time, he gave back to the City of Indianapolis. Manning participated in many charitable events, but most well-known is his donation that led to the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital being named after him. His community impact meant dollars and many good deeds for our most vulnerable. Loreena Hoyt spends the afternoons running with her brother. It’s a simple joy that was at stake after the student was injured in a car crash. Her recovery eventually meant she crossed paths with Peyton Manning.
The quarterback solidified his position with patients when he put his name on the St. Vincent Children’s hospital and embraced new duties. While Manning is now leaving the Colts, his name will stay at the north side hospital. The manning marquee connection is meaningful to young patients like Loreena. We first caught up with her preparing for Manning’s annual gala. Loreena’s St. Vincent doctor repaired her windpipe and restored her voice. Manning honored her with his True Hero Award “because I’ve been through so many terrible things,” she said. She got the honor at the Celebration of Caring Gala, which has raised more than $6 million. This year’s gala is still on track.
Kevin Speer, St. Vincent’s chief strategy officer, tells us that Peyton and Ashley Manning will host the May event. Through the hospital, Manning visited with patients and put his name on projects targeted at keeping kids healthy, active and out of the hospital. Project 18 labels at area Marsh stores point kids to better food choices. Manning hosted statewide school competition where winners like South Grove Intermediate get a visit and a chance to ask questions. “I really think if I couldn’t play for the Colts I would probably stop playing football. This is my favorite club,” Manning told one of the students.
But times and circumstances have changed. Professionally Manning’s paycheck may originate out of state, but that’s not essential to those who met him during their fight for life and who see beyond football. St. Vincent says it was inevitable that Peyton would not be a Colt or a quarterback forever. They expect the hospital name will last into perpetuity, and consider the relationship priceless. There is a lot of grieving in Indianapolis and beyond tonight as Colts fans come to grips with the realization that the horseshoe franchise will never be the same. The Colts, Indianapolis and Indiana are better for having had Peyton Manning and the pain shows through loud and clear tonight.
I don’t write much about sports, others do it so much better but as a Colts fan, my heart is truly torn today and I am not alone. Quarterback Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay cried while making the news official on Wednesday: The Colts have released Manning. After months of speculation about Manning’s future after multiple neck surgeries, the team cleared the air on Wednesday while reflecting on the past 14 years of Manning’s career. “Well, as we’re here to announce conclusion of Peyton’s playing career with the Colts, we’re here as well to honor all of the incredible memories and incredible things he’s done for the franchise, the city and the state,” Irsay said.
Irsay got emotional, choking up while discussing his time with Manning. The team will retire his jersey so no other Colts player wears No. 18. “There will be no other Peyton Manning,” Irsay said. The team owner said he and Manning had been talking for months and always tried to put each other in the other’s shoes. “We both want to be together,” Irsay said. “It’s been very difficult.” Irsay said the discussions have never been about money. Manning, who has spent his entire career with the Colts, will become a free agent. It is not clear yet what team will grab Manning. The quarterback called it “uncharted territory” for him, as he’s never been a free agent before.
Manning also became emotional, saying it’s not been easy for him or Irsay. He noted he’s been a Colts player for most of his adult life. “This town and this team mean so much to me,” Manning said. “I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts.” Manning also spoke directly to fans, again choking up through his comments, which he’d prepared ahead of time. “Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart,” Manning said. “I have truly enjoyed being your quarterback.” Both men spoke about the future. “Jim and I have spoken extensively about where we are today. Our conversations have left both of us to recognize it is … best for us to take this next step,” Manning said.
Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy spoke to WISH-TV Sports Director Anthony Calhoun by phone after the news conference. He said he’d spoken to Manning and Irsay within the past week. Dungy said he hoped fans could focus on Manning’s accomplishments with the team instead of what the team could have done differently with its quarterback decision. The famed quarterback has left a lasting mark on Indianapolis, both through charity work and simple popularity. His jersey has often been within the top five of most-sold jerseys on the NFL’s website. He’s led the team to multiple playoff and two Super Bowl appearances.
Manning said while he moves on from the Colts, he won’t move on from Indiana. “I’m not leaving Indianapolis,” he said. “I’m just leaving the Colts.” Even while making the announcement, Manning took a moment to take the lime light away from himself. “Our thoughts and prayers must be with the tornado victims in Indiana and Tennessee,” Manning said. “We have to keep this in perspective.” His departure had fans talking on Tuesday. Manning has long been well-loved in Indianapolis, where many refer to Lucas Oil Stadium as the facility he built as a result of leading them to many wins.
Peyton Manning, speaking at the news conference, said, “I guess in life and sports we all know nothing lasts forever.” Manning’s voice was quivering as he talked about leaving the Colts “with nothing but good thoughts … and gratitude to the organization.” “I haven’t thought about where I’ll play,” he added, “but I have thought a lot about where I’ve been.” Asked if he’s at peace with the decision, Manning said, “It’s certainly been emotional. It’s weighed heavy on my heart. But I am at peace with it.”
Manning said he’s “feeling closer and closer” to getting back to full strength. “I have to remind myself it’s March,” he said. Asked about his favorite memory with the Colts, he said, “That’s a hard question. … This is a relationship business with coaches, teammates, support staff. The Colts have the greatest equipment guys in the world. I think about those types of relationships. … I’ve been very fortunate, very blessed.” Asked if he lobbied for himself to owner Jim Irsay, Manning said, “Jim and I never got on that situation. We had good, healthy talks.” Manning added: “I don’t want to retire. But no, I don’t feel I have anything to prove. … I still want to play. There’s no other team I’ve ever wanted to play for. Nobody’s had it better than I have, playing for the Indianapolis Colts these 14 years.”
The reality of today’s announcement is tough. Peyton Manning has been the Colts franchise for so long and it’s hard to fathom the team without him. That being said, Irsay had to make a business decision and at the end of the day, the question looms about Manning’s health and whether he will actually play again. In a DMNEWSI poll on Facebook, the votes were split almost 50/50 when asked if releasing Manning was the right decision. I guess that’s where I am…split. Loyal, sometimes to a fault, I would like for the Colts to have kept #18 but the harsh reality of his health simply made that impossible. I hope Peyton Manning enjoys what remains of his career and I wish him all the success in the world as long as he is not playing the Colts.