INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As his next Lifetime Achievement moment approaches, Peyton Manning finds himself taking some personal inventory.
Upright and mobile? Check.
All systems are “Go” for a celebratory Saturday afternoon during which the long-time face and foundation of the Indianapolis Colts will look on – humbled and honored – as his larger-than-life bronze is unveiled on the north plaza at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The brainchild of owner and friend Jim Irsay, it’s to recognize Manning’s comprehensive impact on a franchise, a city a state.
To the man in question, who posed for and worked with local sculptor/fireman Ryan Feeney to ensure a realistic finished product, it’s nearly overwhelming.
“I’m not totally comfortable with this whole statue thing,’’ Manning told FOX59, “but I’m incredibly honored by Jim Irsay’s gesture and generosity.
“I keep checking my health. I didn’t know you were supposed to be alive to see a statue made of you.’’
His health aside, Manning made it clear he’ll savor the weekend. A day after the statue is revealed, his name will be added to the Colts’ Ring of Honor and his No. 18 jersey retired at halftime of the San Francisco 49ers game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Manning retired after helping the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 season, but from that transformational evening April 18, 1998 –the Colts made him the first overall pick in the draft, effectively changing their historical arc – he always was the quintessential “Horseshoe Guy.’’
“I cherish my 14 years playing for the Indianapolis Colts,’’ Manning said. “It’s the team that I wanted to play for, right? It’s the team that I wanted to draft me. Once the order of the draft was set and I knew I had a chance to go up there early, I told Bill Polian I wanted to come here. I told Jim Irsay I wanted him to take me, that I wanted to win for him.’’
More accurately, Manning issued a not-so-subtle warning as Irsay and Polian debated the Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? question in the days and weeks leading up to the draft.
If you take me, I promise you we will win a championship. If you don’t, I promise I’ll come back and kick your ass.
“When they took me,’’ Manning said, “I was excited.
The hype followed him from Knoxville, Tenn., where he developed into a record-setting, All-America quarterback at the University of Tennessee, to Indy.
So did a predictable question. The answer defined him.
“When I got drafted, they asked me, ‘What are you going to do with this money you’re about to make?’’’ Manning said. “My answer was: I’m going to earn it. That’s really how I felt. If you’re drafted (high) it’s because you’ve probably been a good college player, but it’s not really an award. It’s, ‘OK, now we need you to be a good player.’
“I really felt driven every day to give Jim Irsay the return on his investment and to be the best player my teammates and coaches needed me to be and the player the fans wanted me to be. I was really driven by that.
“I always thought I was a fair teammate. It’s probably more accurate to say I was a demanding teammate. I was extremely demanding of myself as well because I didn’t want to let my teammates down.’’
Until a series of neck procedures forced him to miss the entire 2011 season and led to his departure from the Colts in March 2012, Manning started 208 consecutive games, an NFL record for consecutive starts to open a career. He took every offensive snap – every snap – in 178 of those 208 games, and 12,712 of a possible 13,136 (96.8 percent) during his Indy career.
“I always wanted to do my part,’’ he said. “The hardest part was the year I was injured. I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t be out there.’’
There’s so much to celebrate: 11 playoff appearances in the first 13 seasons of his 14-year career in Indy; two trips to the Super Bowl, including a signature win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI; four of his NFL-record five MVP awards; the record 49 TD season in 2004; the incredible, oft-times impossible comebacks. Remember the Colts trailing Tampa Bay 35-14 with 5 minutes to play? And winning?
And that’s the on-the-field stuff.
Manning’s legacy – he’s uncomfortable with that word, but it fits – transcends his playing career. There’s the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, the PeyBack Foundation, the Peyback Classic, celebrating Christmas with underprivileged youngsters at the Children’s Museum. He’s reached out countless times to complete strangers dealing with difficult personal issues, hoping to briefly ease the pain with a note, picture, autograph or phone call.
From day 1, Manning embraced the pressure and responsibility of being the face of a franchise. His first Indy experience came in February 1998 when he attended the NFL Scouting Combine. His only real knowledge of the city was relayed by his father, Archie, who occasionally participated in the Youthlinks Charity Golf Tournament.
“Dad always told me, ‘Good event, nice people,’’’ Manning said.
Other than that, he added, “had no friends there, no connections.’’
He connected immediately.
“I always believed in living where you were playing,’’ Manning said. “Once you get there, you go all in. You dive right in. Moved there. Ashley and I started the foundation, got involved with the Children’s Hospital and other things in the community. Got to know a lot of good people in the community.’’
Manning remains proud of all he, his teammates and coaches accomplished. He never took winning for granted, which made hoisting the Lombardi Trophy into the air that rainy night in South Florida Feb. 4, 2007 so special.
“I knew how hard it was to win a game in the NFL, much less a bunch of them and much less win four in the (2006) playoffs and win a Super Bowl,’’ he said.
From 2003-09, the Colts set an NFL record by winning at least 12 games each season. They were 14-2 in ’05 and ’09.
“Coach (Tony) Dungy and I would harp, ‘Guys, don’t take this for granted. This is not normal,’’’ Manning said with a laugh. “We had guys drafted in ’04 and ’05 and they’re going, ‘Well, it certainly feels normal because we’re going 12-4 or 13-3 every year.’’’
No matter how much Manning reminisced about the games, the winning and the honors, he invariably returned to what might be closer to his heart: the relationships formed and maintained.
This weekend, he has invited dozens of his former Colts teammates, coaches and support staff to share the occasion. Tony Dungy, Bill Polian, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Tarik Glenn, Dallas Clark, Brandon Stokley, Marshall Faulk and so many others. He wants former video whiz Marty Heckscher as well as current assistant video director John Starliper on hand. Same with head trainer Dave Hammer, vice president of equipment operations Jon Scott, equipment manager Sean “Frog’’ Sullivan and assistant Brian “T’’ Seabrooks.
The latter two were adept at snagging passes from Manning during practice.
“Those guys probably caught more passes from me in practice than Marvin and Reggie did,’’ he said.
The weekend is about Peyton Manning. The statue. The Ring of Honor. Retiring 18.
But Manning insisted it be a shared experience. The statue ceremony is open to the public and it’s anyone’s guess how many thousand will crowd South Street and Capitol Avenue.
As soon as the 18 jersey goes on, it's like he never took it off.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) September 26, 2017
“The thing I look forward to is being able to see the people that were part of my Indianapolis Colts football,’’ he said. “My teammates, coaches, support staff and friends. And obviously being able to celebrate it with the fans as well who were such a big part of it.’’
Manning’s personal invite list primarily consists of those tied to his Indy career. Ashley and his mother, Olivia, already have had retirement parties for him that had a more national flavor.
“To me,’’ Manning said, “this is an Indianapolis, Indiana event. The people that are going to be there are people who live in Indianapolis or played there.
“I was not comfortable (asking), ‘Hey, I want y’all to be there Saturday to see a statue unveiled of me.’ But it was important for me to include those guys, especially some of the early ones.’’
Manning paused, then continued.
“It’s a time,’’ he said, “to thank people and share it with them.’’