Indianapolis Colts: Eulogizing the Team During the Peyton Manning Era

Brendan O'Hare@brendohareContributor ISeptember 8, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 09:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts gives instructions to his team during the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans  at LP Field on December 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have spent the past 12 seasons as a high-ranking member in the order of the NFL. They, more so than any other team it seemed, were always a threat for an undefeated season, as many a year began with the Colts winning eight or nine straight, then losing to the Chargers on some ill-fated desultory play.

They were a perennial first seed in the AFC and played a majority of their playoff games at home.

Along with the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Colts were leading members of the NFL's security council.

Unfortunately, it appears they are being relieved of their duties, at least for this season.

Their quarterback and de facto leader, Peyton Manning, is going to undergo cervical fusion surgery.

No, this does not mean Manning has lady parts (as I thought the surgery implied), and it is not related to nuclear power (as I also thought it did).

As one of the millions of Americans who looked this up on the Internet tonight, I was able to find out that the surgery involves removing the damaged disc, inserting a bone graft and fusing the vertebra back together with a plate. It sounds like the surgery to fix Frankenstein, and sounds extremely complicated and borderline dangerous.

Manning will now be on the shelf for what will be about two-thirds of the season.

The Colts' first 10 games? The Texans, Browns, Steelers, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Bengals, Saints, Titans, Falcons and Jaguars.

The Colts will not be over .500 at the end of those 10 games, where there is a small chance Manning can ride in on his white horse and rescue the Colts' heads from the drainpipe.

So instead of mulling over the fact that the Colts are essentially doomed this year, let's eulogize what the Colts have meant to the NFL, the media and the fans during the Peyton Manning era.

This was an era where the media portrayed the Colts (and subsequently Manning) as a symbolic meaning of all that is good and just in the NFL.

We felt sad when Manning was alluded of reaching the Super Bowl consistently and didn't bash him for underperforming in his second Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints.

The Colts were always pitted against the Patriots, a team that had done horrible things like "spy" and win too much. (Damn them!) Manning was the Atticus Finch of the NFL, doing all that is right, and defending falsely-accused rapists and being an overall standard for what the modern NFL player should be.

At least that is what has been injected into my brain for the past decade.

The Peyton Manning era didn't officially begin until the 1999 season, a year after he led the Colts to a 3-13 record, despite having one of the best rookie quarterback seasons on record (3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns and beating Ryan Leaf in a competitive football game). The Colts had an inverse record the following season, and the 10-game turnaround was the greatest in NFL history.

Since that season, the Colts have become a team synonymous with early-round playoff exits and great regular seasons. They went 141-57 after the initial Manning season.

A continuous byline during the Colts' dynasty era was, "Will Peyton Manning ever win the big one?" We would be damned if Manning wasn't Phil Mickelson (pre-Masters victory)/Karl Malone/Dan Marino/Ted Williams/General Custer all rolled into one, just so we would have something to talk about and assert our sports knowledgedom over. Manning developed a reputation as a "choker," as did the Colts.

It wasn't until the Super Bowl victory in 2006 that we were able to rid Peyton Manning and the Colts of the diseased monkey clinging to life on their now-scoliosis-infested backs. The Colts became great and got to that point, due to great coaching (Tony Dungy, who is now the residing Mr. Feeny of the NFL, whether I like it or not), great personnel decisions (Polian keenly surrounded Manning with great receivers, an above-average defense, a sturdy line and the always-stupefying Edgerrin James, noted fantasy team-killer) and perhaps the best technical quarterback of all time.

Hell, it is almost a knock on the Colts that they never won more than one Super Bowl during this time period.

After Dungy left, the Colts became an even more robotic team, winning games at an even higher rate and doing it all under the comatose watch of coach Jim Caldwell. They reached the Super Bowl in the 2009 season and lost, despite the impending coronation of Manning as the "Greatest Quarterback of All-Time," which would have come with the win.

For now, Manning will have his neck sliced open. He may never play again, even though that is a pretty slim chance.

Even though I am a belligerent Steelers fan, I actually find this quite sad. I always found Manning and the Colts a respectable adversary in the quest for the domination of the Aughts.

Manning is, by my measure, the greatest quarterback of all time. He likely will have a hard time reaching his pinnacle ever again, despite the almost statuesque characteristics Manning has while playing football.

The Colts, as a result, will have a difficult time as well.

Indianapolis will likely have a losing season this year, and perhaps next year if Manning is unable to fully recover from being surgically decapitated. Due to the poor drafting and personnel decisions (uncharacteristic of Bill Polian given his early track record), the Colts could be a team in flux and debilitation for a while.

It is sad to see them go, but I will love to watch them leave.