INDIANAPOLIS – As it usually does, a lot can happen in between visits for the biggest sports icon to date in the history of the circle city.
Last time he wasn’t quite as happy as he was on a sunny April Saturday.
That was on October 20th, when Peyton Manning lost his first game of the 2013 season to his former team. The Colts’ held off a late charge by the quarterback to hold on for a 39-33 victory-a blip on the resume of Denver’s AFC Championship season.
But six months later Manning was in better spirits in the town which he called home for over 14 years. This time he’s greeting old friends and meeting new ones at his annual charity event to benefit the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at the Fed Ex Hanger just outside of the Indianapolis International Airport.
While his connection between the professional football franchise in the city no longer in place, that’s not the case with the hospital that bears his name.
“It means a lot, it really does,” said Manning of his connection to the city and the fundraising gala-which is now in its seventh year. “I hope to have this connection to this city and this community forever. I have just unbelievable memories here and a lot of ties here but this association with the children’s hospital is one that I’m just honored to be apart of.
“To come back every year and have this fundraising event where we got a thousand people here tonight.”
Manning’s optimism wasn’t just contained to the present during his 15-minute media session before the event on Saturday evening. Now approaching his third season with the Broncos, the 38-year old quarterback says he’s still feeling well about himself as he enters his 17th season in the National Football League.
“I certainly enjoy playing,” said Manning. “When you have a year off from playing that you wish you didn’t have off it makes you miss football and being out there with the guys. So the past two years to get back out onto the field, I’ve really enjoyed it.”
How much long he’ll be out there remained a question even after the Broncos’ loss in Super Bowl XLVIII in February. Manning’s neck was cleared by doctors soon after the game to continue playing in the league in 2014 but the quarterback’s not trying to look much farther ahead than that at the moment.
“You just try to listen to your body. I think as long as the Broncos want me, those kinda go together,” said Manning when asked how long he might keep playing. “I feel that you owe it to the team to be all in for 2014. Not to be looking beyond that or before that. You give them everything you have to make this season as good as it can be and to help their team win.
“That’s kinda the way I want to do it and you can kinda have a checkpoint at the end of the season. Certainly how you feel healthwise physically.”
The Colts will be the first ones to see that first hand in the 2014 season. Manning’s Broncos will host his former team in the season opener for both teams at night on Sunday, September 7th at Sports Authority Field in Denver. Manning joked that he figured the game would “be on TV” when he saw the team’s opponents released after the regular season in 2013, but he’s serious about the challenge that his old team will present.
“That’s as tough of an opening game as I think you can get,” said Manning of the Colts. “They were in the hunt at the end last year and got beat by a tough New England team on the road so I know they’ll be an excellent opponent.”
But for now, the former Colts quarterback was content to enjoy an excellent night in his old city.