On March 7 2012, the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis drew to a close. Manning was released by the only NFL team he has ever known and thrust into the free agency landscape.
The story is well known. Manning ended up in Denver where he proved that he could still play after four neck surgeries had threatened his career. More than that, Manning excelled. He is in the midst of what could potentially be his best season ever and the Colts moved on by drafting Andrew Luck to be his successor. For fourteen years, Manning was the Indianapolis Colts, he was idolised by Colts fans and in a blink of an eye he was gone.
This Sunday, Manning will return to Lucas Oil Stadium to play against his old team for the first time. It will be a day of mixed emotions for Colts fans, who spent so long cheering for the iconic quarterback and will now have to witness him lining up against them in a Broncos jersey.
Now in the modern NFL, it is understood that players will rarely play out their entire career with one team. It happens from time to time - Ray Lewis being a prime example with the Baltimore Ravens - however with free agency rules, a strict salary cap and injuries, players will often have to been seen suiting up in another team's jersey.
Ravens fans have to see Ed Reed in a Texans jersey, 49ers fans watched Joe Montana as a Chief and Cowboys fans saw Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal. But there is something unique about Manning and the Colts, never has one player meant so much to a franchise and the fans that adored Manning never got a proper goodbye.
The last time Colts fans saw Manning in a Colts jersey was a painful play-off loss to the New York Jets in 2010. However, there was no hint this would be his final outing a Colt, it would have been almost unthinkable at that juncture.
Therein lies what will make this Sunday’s reunion of Manning and Colts fans special. Forget all the comparisons with Luck, forget whatever controversy Jim Irsay’s mouth is cooking up and all the questions about whether the Colts made the right decision in letting Manning go. This game will act as closure for fans that were robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye and celebrate the remarkable time Manning had in Indianapolis.
All Colts fans secretly root for the Broncos because they want to see Manning win another ring. However, after the pre-game celebrations and tributes to Manning are done and the game begins, nothing would give Colts fans more closure than watching Luck and co taking it to 'The Sheriff'.
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