Dear Handsome, Spoiled-Rotten Grandson:
The Indianapolis Colts officially released quarterback Peyton Manning on March 7, 2012.
In the great chasm of time that will pass between now and when I share this with you, Manning’s release probably won’t seem too significant.
But for all the Colts fans like myself who started to follow the team after Peyton was drafted in 1998, March 7 is the end of an era the likes of which I’ll never experience again as a sports fan.
Being a Colts fan and knowing you had No. 18 (one of Peyton’s many nicknames) under center was a magical feeling.
There’s nothing quite like coming home from church on Sunday afternoon, tugging on your jersey, flipping on the TV and knowing – with no doubt whatsoever – that your team had a good chance to win no matter the opponent.
I heard there was a study done one time that said Colts fan wore more jerseys to games than any other fan base in the NFL.
As you can imagine, the majority of those blue and white jerseys bore No. 18.
Peyton made people in Indiana – historically a basketball state – care about football.
But he also mattered to people like me, my dad and brother, those of us with no home team to absorb our undying faith and support. We live in Kentucky but the Colts are our team just as much as the UK Wildcats are in college basketball.
I’m convinced that wouldn’t have been the case if it weren’t for Peyton. We might have ended up as Bengals fans or – it pains me to say it – Titans fans.
Peyton may no longer be a Colt but his legacy will always be colored blue and white.
I didn’t get to watch Johnny Unitas like my dad did so I can’t compare other quarterbacks to “The Golden Arm.”
My comparisons will instead be drawn to Peyton, the greatest NFL player I have ever seen.
No Colts fan will ever forget the euphoric feeling that followed his 46 game-winning drives, each more magical than the last.
My brother, dad and I will always laugh about the time my mom threatened to kick us out of a Florida condo the night we watched Peyton lead the Colts to an overtime victory after being down 21 points with four minutes left in the game.
Twenty-one points! It might not have been his most significant comeback, but it was definitely the most incredible.
No, Peyton’s most significant comeback was against the New England Patriots, a team you’ll probably hate instinctively. (Don’t worry, that’s normal for Raymers.)
It was the 2007 AFC championship game and the Colts were down 21-3 at halftime. This was nothing new as the Patriots typically owned the Colts during the postseason.
What happened in the second half still gets my blood pumping – Peyton unleashed a legendary comeback and hung 31 points on the Patriots, giving the Colts a 34-31 victory and propelling them to the Super Bowl.
I think mom went for a drive after that game to get away from the raucous celebration.
Then there was the sweet Super Bowl victory over the Bears, watching Peyton set the single season record for touchdown passes, the Colts beating the Patriots in compelling fashion again in 2009 on the “4th-and-2” play and Peyton earning his unprecedented fourth MVP trophy.
As a sports fan, you long for the opportunity to watch an all-time great play for your team.
Colts fans got to enjoy their opportunity for 14 years.
Peyton is gone but as Colts owner Jim Irsay said on March 7: “The number 18 jersey will never be worn again.”
That’s what I wanted to share with you – that your old grandad got to watch a player whose brilliance will never be matched.