INDIANAPOLIS – With each practice rep, each game and each victory, Peyton Manning knew special was brewing with the Indianapolis Colts.
Sunday morning, Manning stared into a camera and handled a Zoom conference call with his normal aplomb. That’s to say he controlled it. Let’s consider him the quarterback of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021.
At one point, Manning was asked if he ever envisioned the Colts of his playing era – 1998-2010 – making such a mammoth footprint in Canton, Ohio.
He was preceded by Bill Polian (Class of 2015), Tony Dungy (Class of 2016), Marvin Harrison (Class of 2016) and Edgerrin James (Class of 2020). Reggie Wayne has been among the 15 Modern-era Finalists the past two years and undoubtedly will be knocking on the door again next year. Robert Mathis is eligible for the first time next year, Dwight Freeney the following year.
“Certainly while you’re playing it’s not something that I think any of us were thinking about,’’ Manning said. “We were just trying to figure it all out, trying to win games.’’
But he quickly added, yes, there always was a belief that collection was a cut above. They took winning to the extreme.
“It was something that I could tell was a special group in those early years,’’ Manning said. “It was a bunch of guys that loved football, that loved to work hard. All those players . . . they were our hardest practicers.’’
Manning mentioned Harrison’s routine: catch a pass, finish the play. And that was during the week of preparation.
“Watching Marvin practice, it just doesn’t get any better than that,’’ he said. “He catches a 5-yard pass and he sprints 50 yards down the field with nobody guarding him.
“I saw that. Reggie Wayne saw that and said, ‘Hey, I want to practice that way.’ Everybody kind of bought in.’’
Cultivating that type of culture was made easier by the caliber of player brought in by Polian and Dungy.
“We weren’t bringing in a lot of guys that didn’t love football or didn’t like to work hard,’’ Manning said.
Reaching the Hall of Fame – individually or as a group – was “not something we sat around and talked about,’’ he said. “I think about Edgerrin and Marvin in 1999 being together and kind of beginning this turnaround in Indianapolis and kind of help make it a true football town and football state.’’
The impact of the Manning-led Colts was enormous. You can look it up.
During that 13-year stretch, 16 different players combined for 55 Pro Bowl selections. Manning led the way with 11, following by Harrison (eight), Freeney (six) and Wayne and Jeff Saturday (five each). James was selected four times.
Manning earned four of his record five MVPs and Bob Sanders was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. James led the league in rushing in each of his first two seasons. Harrison set the league record with 143 receptions in 2002 and led the NFL in receptions, yards or touchdowns five times. Wayne led the league in receiving yards once and Freeney in sacks once.
The team reached the playoffs 11 times, advanced to the Super Bowl twice and captured the franchise’s first world championship in more than three decades. It won 115 games during the 2000s, at the time an NFL record for the most wins in a decade. It won at least 10 games in 11 of Manning’s 13 seasons, including at least 12 in seven straight (2003-09), again a league record at the time.
It was Manning and Harrison and James and Wayne and Saturday and Tarik Glenn and Freeney and Mathis and Antoine Bethea and Sanders and Dallas Clark and so many others. It was Polian bringing them in and Dungy getting the most out of them.
Induction ceremonies for Manning and the Class of 2021 is on the books for Aug. 8 in Canton. The previous day, James and the Class of 2020 will be enshrined; that ceremony was rescheduled from last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Proud to be going with Edgerrin, and I was there for Marvin,’’ Manning said. “Those were two of the first guys I called.
“I certainly see those other names you mentioned getting a knock on their door in the near future.’’
Transition to Denver
Manning built the bulk of his legacy during his 14 seasons with the Colts; he missed the 2011 season with his neck issues. The final four unfolded in Denver.
“Coming to Denver was an anxious period of time for me,’’ he said. “Coming off an injury, learning new teammates, new coaches, a lot of the same things Tom Brady is having to go through now. I did not know how it was going to play out.’’
It played out rather nicely. He earned a fifth MVP and set NFL records with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards in 2013. He was instrumental in the Broncos reaching the playoffs four times, the Super Bowl twice and winning one world title.
“Denver was the best place for me, and I’m really proud of my time there,’’ he said.
“It’s not what I wanted,’’ Manning said. “I always wanted to play for the team that drafted me, which I think is what every player should shoot for that goal. Not many get to do it.
“John Elway got to do it, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, my brother Eli got to do it. But things happen. Injuries come into play, and you’ve got to find somewhere else to play.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.