Peyton Manning's first return to Indianapolis to play against the Colts Sunday evening is going to be anything but pretty.
Seemingly Manning has moved on to the Broncos, but that does not mean he is not still attached to the horseshoe. He was the Colts quarterback from 1998-2011 after all, and he led the team to the playoffs 11 times and threw for nearly 55,000 yards and 400 touchdowns.
It’s been nearly three years since Manning last played in a game in Lucas Oil Stadium as a member of the Colts.
His return for Week 7 of the NFL season is something that Manning does not want to talk about for now.
Lindsay Jones, NFL reporter for USA Today, tweeted that Manning is avoiding discussion about his return to Indy.
Peyton Manning was asked a couple questions about Indy tonight: "I’ll probably cover that on Wednesday. Do I have to talk Wednesday still?"— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) October 14, 2013
Manning is doing well enough this season. He led the Broncos to a 35-19 Week 6 victory over winless Jacksonville, a game in which he completed 28 of 42 passes for 295 yards. His play was not perfect, though, as he did throw an interception and fumbled two snaps.
Now, he is leading his 6-0 Broncos into Indianapolis to face the Colts (4-2). There is no doubt that emotions are going to run high on both sides.
It might not be a game in which all of the fans are shouting in protest that Manning was ever let go, but that does not mean he hasn't been missed in the city in which his NFL career began or that Manning won’t be reliving his countless game days playing on the other side.
Manning is an icon in Colts’ franchise history, and his return overshadows the actual prime-time game. He led Indianapolis to only one Super Bowl Championship during his 14-year tenure, in Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears.
As amicable as Manning's release from the Colts was, there is no such thing as a completely happy split. Manning is known as an efficient machine on the field, however, a return to Indiana may be the one event that jolts this machine-like demeanor. It's not improbable that the king of preparation might not be emotionally ready for something that he has never before experienced; it can never be easy for Manning to be an outsider in what used to be his home.
It's not like the Manning and the Broncos haven't been on the big stage already this season, with a revenge-filled season-opening win against Baltimore and the Manning brother face-off against the New York Giants and younger sibling, Eli. Still it's doubtful that those situations bring nearly as much emotional energy as having a stadium full of former fans cheering against you.
Physically speaking, the Colts do present the biggest challenge the Broncos have faced this season. Indianapolis already has two upsets this season, against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week Five. And this will be the Colts first weekend with linebacker Von Miller, who had a six-game suspension to start the year.
It shouldn't be anything the Broncos can't handle, though, if Manning stays on his game.
Despite Manning’s success in recent seasons, Colts owner Jim Irsay seemingly has no regrets about releasing Manning, per USA Today columnist Jarrett Bell:
"We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these," Irsay said to Bell, flicking up his right hand to show his Super Bowl XLI championship ring.
Sunday will be a true test of the new model, as Manning faces off against Andrew Luck, the quarterback who replaced him in Indianapolis. Luck has not been putting up numbers like Manning, but he still has greatly improved from his rookie season.
Manning is not the first athlete to return home in a new jersey. There’s Michael Jordan, who played for the Washington Wizards against the Chicago Bulls in 2002 and scored 16 points in a 77-69 win. As a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Brett Favre played brilliantly in his first appearance against his old team, the Green Bay Packers, in 2009. He had four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 38-26 win over the Packers.
Not every superstar who plays his old team wins, though. Take the great Wayne Gretzky, who had two assists but lost 8-6 in his first game for the L.A. Kings against the Edmonton Oilers in 1988.
Now, it’s time to see how Manning fares in his return and if he lets his nerves surpass his skill.