Indianapolis Colts: A Fan's Guide to Surviving Life Without Peyton Manning

Russell Puntenney@@RussPuntContributor IIIMarch 27, 2012

Indianapolis Colts: A Fan's Guide to Surviving Life Without Peyton Manning

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    When a superstar athlete leaves a franchises he has a history with, it’s a lot like going through a divorce.

    Both relationships usually begin to sour well before the decision is made, and unfortunately in both cases, amicable splits are very hard to come by.

    Usually there’s someone to blame.

    Not so in the case of Peyton Manning versus the Indianapolis Colts, who officially parted ways on March 7 but did so in the classiest of possible ways, honoring the partnership both were able to sustain for almost 15 years and ensuring in the process that no hard feelings would be harbored from either side as they went their separate ways.

    The irreconcilable differences between Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay had been slowly building ever since Indianapolis secured the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft late last year, and even though those differences arose through no fault of either party, the challenges they created were staggering nonetheless.

    Manning is entering the final stage of his NFL journey. The Colts, meanwhile, are just now embarking on a brand new one, their hand all but forced after years of mismanagement that finally reached a tipping point last season. This was never going to work, and considering how quickly they were both able to accept that reality and deal with it, this once unthinkable breakup should actually come as a sad but welcome relief.

    Just because the duo’s final act was executed so maturely does not mean the necessary adjustments still to come will be any easier for either to enact, however, and for the legions of shell-shocked Colts fans caught in the middle specifically, the transition could be awfully rough.

    The last time Indy’s roster didn’t have Peyton Manning on it, Bill Clinton was president and Tim Tebow, the celebrated third-year quarterback Manning will be replacing in Denver next season, was in elementary school.

    Many Colts fans either weren’t alive or have no memory of what the team was like before No. 18 arrived, and even those who do have become so accustomed to Manning’s magic touch that a return to the good old days now seems virtually inconceivable.

    Peyton Manning is all Colts fans know. Playoff runs. Win streaks. All-time records. There’s a good chance those thrills are now just a thing of the past, at least for the immediate future, and there’s a good chance the fanbase that just came to expect those kinds of results week after week will have a rude awakening coming soon once a completely new team takes the field next season.

    Colts fans need to brace themselves for what’s coming now and, more importantly, they need to figure out a way to put the Peyton Manning era behind them for good as soon as possible.

    In this guide we’ll examine how they can do just that.

Step One: Frame Your Jersey

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    It’s a safe bet Manning and Irsay weren’t the only people crying during their poignant joint press conference three weeks ago this Wednesday, and for good reason: Manning is a special player and his time in Indianapolis was about as special as it gets.

    The loss of Peyton Manning is just that—a loss—and there’s nothing wrong with treating it as such if you’ve been following the quarterback’s career to this point.

    Much has been written about how Peyton single-handedly transformed the city of Indianapolis over the last 14 years, and his performance on the field during that span has likewise been universally praised.

    Manning made history in Indianapolis. He went from No. 1 draft pick to MVP to Super Bowl champion with the whole world watching every move along the way. His no-huddle offense changed football forever. His modest demeanor endeared him to people that don’t even care about sports. He transcended the game, and he built a legacy in the process that will never be forgotten no matter what happens during his upcoming stint in Denver.

    Now that Manning’s days in Indianapolis are officially over, Colts fans need to find some much-needed closure before the new era begins.

    That’s not to say you need to go all LeBron James on that No. 18 jersey you’ve displayed so proudly for so long, but it does require you to acknowledge your favorite garment is now little more than a relic. It’s an artifact. A keepsake. Why not take this team change as a sign it’s time to finally place the thing where you always knew it belongs: Behind glass.

    Irsay has already confirmed no Colt is ever going to wear the jersey again, after all.

    Why should you?

Step Two: Buy a Broncos Jersey

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    There’s no rule that says just because you root for one team you can’t support another, and considering how long it may be before the Colts are a contender again, Indianapolis fans would probably be wise to jump on the Broncos bandwagon as soon as they can. 

    Don’t act like you aren’t secretly rooting for Manning to succeed in Denver, Colts fans, and don’t beat yourself up over the urge to do so either.

    If any NFL player has earned a fanbase’s allegiance even after changing teams, after all, it’s Peyton Williams Manning. This guy carried your team on his back for years like no one before him ever has, and your ties to him are just as strong at this point as they are to the Colts organization as a whole.

    So he plays for another team now. Is that like the end of the world or something? Does it change what he did for your team? For your city? For you?

    Manning has been your guy for years now.

    As long as he’s not directly butting heads with Indy, which he won’t be for at least the next year (unless hell freezes over and the Broncos and Colts somehow wind up meeting in the playoffs), he can still be your guy moving forward.    

    It’s not like he went and joined the Patriots or anything now did he?

Step Three: Count Your Blessings

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    Manning’s release has given Colts fans a unique opportunity to pause and reflect on just how lucky they were to ever call the man their quarterback in the first place.

    Peyton became an all-time great during his time in Indianapolis, and at one point or another during his 14 years there every other NFL franchise came to respect, if not outright envy, what Indy was able to accomplish under his watch.

    This was confirmed during Manning’s headline-stealing free agency experience, a media firestorm in which the veteran quarterback could’ve gone to pretty much any team he felt like joining, and in the process we saw the All-Pro’s value put into perspective in ways we never had before.

    Just look at how desperately Manning’s suitors pursued him throughout this whole ordeal.

    The Broncos and 49ers were so stoked about adding Peyton they were both willing to release quarterbacks that helped their teams win playoff games last season in order to get him, while Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams wanted Manning so badly he reportedly offered the guy a contract “for life”—a deal that would have included a front office position after his playing days were over. How unprecedented is that?

    Miami and Arizona were also prepared to go all-in on Manning, and rightfully so: Since Peyton joined the league in 1998, the Dolphins have shuffled through 17 different starting quarterbacks while the Cardinals have gone through 12. Until last season when Peyton was injured, Indy had started just one.

    And those teams weren’t even vying for the Peyton Manning that started 208 straight games and put up 4,000-passing-yard passing seasons like clockwork either. They were fighting over a 36-year-old recovering surgery patient who hasn’t played a snap of professional football in over 14 months.

    That’s not to say Manning is incapable of returning to form, but it does highlight just how exceptional a talent those teams must consider him to be if they’d be willing to risk so much just to sign him.

    Players like Peyton Manning don’t come along very often.

    Colts fans were blessed to have him on their team for as long as they did, and to ignore that good fortune now is to spit in the face of all the other NFL fanbases who’ve seen their teams either struggle or waver at best during Manning’s historically consistent career (which included an incredible stretch of 11 playoff appearances in 12 seasons, more berths than Arizona, Miami and Denver produced during the same span combined).

    Those days may be over, but they should never be forgotten, nor should they go under-appreciated at a time when Colts fans just might need them most.

    Manning’s career will be defined by his time in Indianapolis, and nothing is going to change that no matter what happens during the quarterback’s second act in Denver.

    And that, Colts fans, is definitely something to be happy about.

Step Four: Learn to Love Andrew Luck

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    We’ve already established Colts fans are a pretty lucky group.

    After somehow winding up with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, however, at this point “lucky” might not even be strong enough a word to describe them anymore.

    Indianapolis hit the football lottery when Peyton Manning was drafted in 1998 and now, 14 years later, they’re perfectly positioned to do it again—the best quarterback prospect since Manning himself just so happens to be available this offseason and the Colts, once again, have the right to claim him before any other team if they want.

    That prospect is Andrew Luck out of Stanford University and that answer, regarding whether the Colts want to claim him, is already a resounding “Yes!”

    Luck’s potential is virtually limitless, and his placement among the most elite NFL prospects ever is virtually unanimous. Of course the Colts are going to take the guy this April (the organization was scouting him as early as September last year) and of course the assumption that they’ll do so is the primary reason Peyton Manning is no longer a Colt today.   

    What this means to the Colts is that the rebuilding process that could have potentially been delayed another year or two instead begins now, and what it means for Colts fans, miraculously, is that their team just might become one of only a handful in NFL history to just nonchalantly transition from one franchise quarterback to the next.

    Finding a franchise quarterback is the most important challenge an NFL team faces, and to hit it big on two of them, consecutively, seems to defy logic.

    Not that it hasn’t been done before. Joe Montana to Steve Young. Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.

    Is Manning to Luck next on that list?

    There’s no way to know at this point, but with the enormous potential present for just such a segue to take place, Colts fans have every reason to get behind No. 12 right now and to support him with the same enthusiasm they did No. 18 for so long.

    If Colts fans just divorced Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck is their gushing new bride-to-be, or if the marriage analogy seems a little too weird in this sense, think of Manning as your faithful old golden retriever who finally had to be put to sleep and Luck as the adorable little puppy you picked up on the way home.

    However you decide to process it, Colts fans, just be glad you’re in this situation to begin with.

    Lord knows how many other NFL fans wish they were instead.

Step Five: It’s Called "Defense”

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    Based on the direction the team is heading, the biggest adjustment for fans to grasp in the new era of Colts football, post-Manning, will be a radical new concept called “defense.”

    It may be news to Colts fans, but there are other ways to win football games besides putting up 30 points every single week and, apparently, if you have one of these things called defenses, you can actually get by on much less than that.

    Just ask new coach Chuck Pagano, who abandoned his post as coordinator of one of the most prolific defenses in NFL history, the Baltimore Ravens, in order to join Indianapolis, and whose units in Baltimore, Oakland and Cleveland allowed on average less than 19 points per game across nine combined seasons.

    Colts fans respect a good defense, but they don’t yet know how to appreciate one. They’re used to shootouts: high-scoring, back-and-forth outbursts of thrilling offense production from start to finish.

    Suffice it to say in the eyes of a Colts fan, then, the low-scoring defensive chess matches teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh are known for just don’t pack the same kind of punch, and after fielding a team that encouraged the exact opposite kind of game play for a decade straight, the shift could be rather unsettling if defense becomes king in Indianapolis next season.

    Fortunately, there is a game scenario Colts fans like even more than a shootout, and that’s a victory. If the Colts become a winning team again, regardless of how it’s accomplished, the final scores could be 3-0 for all Colts fans would care.

    A conscious emphasis on defense is coming to Indianapolis, potentially at the expense of its typically high-flying offense, and it’s coming whether Colts fans like it or not.

    As soon as Indy proves to them it works, however, they’ll be on board in droves.

Step Six: Tear into Jim Irsay

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    If you’re still bent out of shape over the way Manning skipped town, maybe you just need a scapegoat to direct your frustrations toward.

    Thankfully, that’s what NFL team owners were made for.

    Granted, there are plenty of mind-blowing perks that come with owning an NFL team, and few need any explanation at all. You get to play fantasy football with real life players. You could earn endless streams of money. And there's always the chance you could wind up a hero for an entire city of fans.

    But owning an NFL team isn’t all fun and games, and that same potential to make you a hero could just easily turn you into a villain if the team you build doesn’t perform as well as it should. You're the one people will praise for sustaining success, and you're the one they'll hold accountable for failing to obtain it too.

    As far as Manning’s release is concerned, the decision ultimately rested with one man, owner Jim Irsay, and if anyone thinks the move was ill-advised, he’s the guy to blame.

    Irsay is the one who decided not to pay Peyton his $28 million bonus this month.

    He’s the one that decided it was time to rebuild from the ground up and to start that process now, he’s the one that decided not to use the team’s fortuitous draft position to instead build around Manning for one last all-or-nothing championship run before this era ends and, when all’s said and done, he’s the guy that made the decision to let Manning walk away and join another team.

    If you don’t like it, tell him about it (we all know you can find him on Twitter anytime you feel like it, after all).

    Otherwise, keep quiet.   

Step Seven: Boycott ESPN for a Year

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    Forgetting Manning left town would be very hard to accomplish no matter what, and for any Colts fans bitter enough to actually attempt it, shutting off your cable should be priority No. 1.

    ESPN exists primarily to cover stories just like this, and in terms of a perpetual ESPN talking point, the Peyton Manning Saga has it all. Big names? Check. Drama? Check. Uncertainty? You got it. This story could go on forever, and for at least the next year of your life, we all know it’s not going anywhere.

    Manning’s departure isn’t the only reason for a depressed Colts fan to opt out of the media circus for 2012, however, as somewhere between the intermittent shots of Peyton in Mile High will also be, inevitably, ones of a nearly unrecognizable Colts team not expected to do much of anything next season.

    Obviously the Colts could surprise everyone and defy those expectations, as anything is possible in the game of football and especially in the age of parity, but with a rookie quarterback, an overhauled roster and a radically different coaching staff at the helm, this team will probably need more time to gel than what they’ll be given before the 2012 season kicks off.

    The Colts have taken all the right steps to return to relevance eventually, but if you’re the kind of fan who needs to see results before you buy in, you might be better off just sitting this one out.

    2013 and beyond?

    Now that’s another story.

Step Eight: Move to Denver

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    This is it. The last resort.

    They say if you can’t beat them join them, and if you just can’t fathom yourself cheering for a Colts team without Peyton Manning leading the charge, you might want to consider turning in your horseshoe for good.

    Manning is the reason Indy has been so good for so long. He wasn’t alone, but he was the difference-maker that made the Colts a Super Bowl contender year after year no matter who was lining up beside him.

    There’s no shame in wanting to continue cheering for the guy even after he left your favorite team, and if you find (after some serious soul-searching, of course) that your devotion at this point is anchored to more to Manning than it is to the Colts, it might be time to just go ahead and change your favorite team. 

    These are scary times for Colts fans, and if you’d feel more comfortable following Peyton going forward than you do the scores of strangers flooding into Circle City as we speak, no one has any right to tell you different.

    Just don’t come crawling back if Manning’s neck gets re-injured next season and you suddenly find yourself cheering for Caleb Hanie instead.

    Then you’re on your own.