University of Tennessee
Indianapolis Colts – first overall (first round) 1998
After a last place 3-13 record in 1997, the Indianapolis Colts elected to hire Bill Polian as team president in hopes of rebuilding the once historic franchise. Bill Polian’s first order of business, much to the chagrin of season ticket holders, trade fan favorite Jim Harbaugh to the Baltimore Ravens.
Bill Polian wasn’t concerned with what people thought was right. He was adhering to an established formula for success he had enjoyed with the 90s Super Bowl era Buffalo Bills organization. He was going to rebuild the Indianapolis Colts through the draft, as the team held the number one overall selection in the 1998 draft.
Polian’s intentions were clear with what he intended to do with the No. 1 overall selection after trading Harbaugh to Baltimore. In one of the more prolific No. 1 and No. 2 NFL draft quarterback disagreements many were unsure of whom the Colts would select. As an NFL analyst leading up to the draft, you were either a “Leaf guy” or a “Manning guy.” All the way up to the beginning of the NFL Draft, the question people were asking was Leaf or Manning.
Then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the announcement, “With the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select quarterback, University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning.” The San Diego Chargers in trading up with the Arizona Cardinals immediately followed the Manning selection by selecting their own franchise quarterback, Washington State product Ryan Leaf. Leaf’s atrocious play and abbreviated career combined with his name consistently mentioned in all time greatest bust conversations seems to provide clear testimony of Bill Polian’s wisdom.
In his rookie season, Peyton Manning passed for 3,739 yards with 26 touchdowns and set five different rookie passing records, including most touchdown passes in a season. The 1998 Indianapolis Colts ended the regular season with a dismal 3-13 record, hindered by a porous defense that yielded more than 27 points per game.
It was the 1999 season that brought Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to NFL’s forefront. A season for the record books, Peyton Manning had arrived. In the greatest one-year turnaround in NFL history, the Indianapolis Colts ended the ’99 season with a 13-3 regular season record. With the second-best record in the NFL, the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts earned a first-round bye.
Then in 2006, it happened, with an MVP performance in a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, Peyton Manning took his rightful place among NFL royalty. In an instant, Manning jumped from Dan Marino comparisons as the best quarterback never to win a Super Bowl, to impassioned arguments as to whether Manning had dethroned Montana as the best ever.
As of 2011, Peyton Manning has been awarded four Most Valuable Player Awards, been selected to 11 Pro Bowls and appeared in two Super Bowls. Along with leading the Colts to an NFL record, seven straight 12 win seasons, Manning holds countless NFL regular season passing records. Manning has revolutionized the quarterback position, and through his 208 consecutive NFL starts, Peyton Manning has taken the once dreadful Indianapolis Colts franchise and transformed them into one of the greatest sports dynasties of the 20th century. Peyton Manning is a guaranteed lock for a bust in Canton.