INDIANAPOLIS – The old and the new clashed all at once under-of all places-a giant airplane.
Once again it was Peyton Manning in Indianapolis talking to the media before yet another Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital Fundraising Gala-just as it had been in past years. He was once again in a jovial mood outside of the often competitive NFL locker room where his news conferences usually take place.
But there are somethings a little different this year than many of those in the past.
Visually is the first, with the event taking place in the Fed Ex Airplane Hanger at the Indianapolis International Airport.
“No one has ever been allowed to see this venue,” said Manning of the location of the gala. “Luke Bryan (the musical guest for the gala) said this is the first hangar that he has ever performed in.”
It’s also a first in another perspective and perhaps the one that represents the biggest change to the gala in recent years. While Manning make look the same and talk the same his circumstances have certainly change having completed his first season as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Granted last year’s event came just weeks following his release from the Colts-for whom he played 13 seasons-but this year the change hit home at this consistent event.
“Obviously not being able to physically be here in the fall that changes what my normal routine would have been for past 14 years,” said Manning, referring to his work with the Peyback Foundation and the Children’s Hospital. “But I’m certainly keep abreast with it.”
At the same time Manning is adjusting to a team and city for the first time since joining the league in 1998 as the Colts’ top draft pick. The four-time MVP recently completed his first season with the Denver Broncos where he returned strong after missing the 2011 season as his surgically repaired neck healed.
“I still have challenges post-injury, part of its post-injury, part of it’s a new team, part of it’s probably being 37,” said Manning of his first year away from Indianapolis. “So I continue to do my rehab that I’ve had to do for the past going on two years now but certainly last year was such a huge year of transition for me that this year.
“Like I said, I’m not 100 percent comfortable but I am a little more comfortable and have a little more of an idea of where I am physically and those type of things.”
On the field, however, things returned to normal for the quarterback. Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions in leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record-which included 11 consecutive victories to end the season. Ultimately it ended in disappointment as the top-seeded Broncos were upset by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoff.
It may have been even better than Manning might have hoped when he was in the same position talking to the media in 2012, not long removed from finding out his newest destination in the “Mile High City.”
“This time last year still a lot of unknown for me. It really felt good for me to get back out there. The year I sat out you really miss being out there with your teammates. Even though new teammates, it felt good to get back out on the field. A lot of hard work that I put in, a lot of people that helped me along the way. Doctors and trainers here in Indianapolis, certainly with Denver, even I’ve been to Duke, coaches. I was really just so grateful all year for all of the people that helped me.
“So I was glad to be able to get back out on the field and I let all them know how appreciative I was and grateful for the help that they gave me.”
While Manning was making his adjustments in Denver, his old team was doing the same back in Indianapolis. Under new quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano the Colts experienced a season like no other in franchise history-and it wasn’t all about the results.
Yes, the team surprised many with an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance, but it was the circumstances they did so that made the season compelling. Pagano ended up missing 12 games as he underwent treatment for Leukemia and in the meantime his team continue to rattle off thrilling win after thrilling win.
Motivated by the “Chuckstrong” movement for their coach, the Colts managed to win nine of the games Pagano was out with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians leading the way. The coach returned for an emotional regular season-finale at Lucas Oil Stadium December 30th as the team played its most complete game in a 28-16 win over the AFC South Champion Texans.
With all the changes going on in his life, however, Manning didn’t offer much of a perspective on his former team.
“I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. I had not played full last year, with all the transition in Denver. I feel a little more comfortable this year,” said Manning when asked about his impressions of the Colts’ success. “I still get lost quite often driving around Denver so by no means am I settled or we settled in Denver. I’m kinda just trying to think about my day job right now.”
It’s likely he’ll know a lot more about them when he returns to Indianapolis with the Broncos for his first game against the Colts on October 20th. The Sunday night game figures to attract plenty of local and national attention and will be one of the most significant regular season games in the Indianapolis-era of the Colts franchise.
“I know that I will reflect on it and have some thoughts on that week in October,” said Manning of that game. “I was pleased when the schedule came out, having gone through this a little bit with playing against Eli which, I don’t know if its similar. I know 2006 when we played Eli it was the first game of the season so people were allowed to ask about that opening game and we kinda had to talk about it because it was the first game.
“But I’m glad that Giants game (vs Broncos) is Week 2 and that game against the Colts is whenever so I really don’t have to talk about it until that week and that’s when I will.”
Manning offered more perspective on the one thing that hasn’t changed in a return to Indianapolis and that’s his charitable work in the city. While not back as often as when he lived in the city full-time, Manning continues to maintain his charitable commitment to the city which he started over a decade ago.
“I get updates on what’s going on at the hospital and the different patients that we’re treating and some of the stories of the doctors and the surgeries they perform,” said Manning. “This event that we will continue to have, it really keeps getting bigger and better.”