The Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. An intelligent quarterback with a surgical approach to the game was an easy pick for a football team dropped in the middle of basketball country when they left Baltimore in the dead of night fourteen years earlier. The Colts had languished in mediocrity with failed draft selections, erroneous trades, and frequent coaching dismissals, but Manning changed all that. The second son of NFL legend Archie Manning, Peyton is a charismatic leader with killer arm. With the Colts Manning was a 12-time pro bowler, four-time NFL MVP, and transformed the landscape of Indiana sports. He hosted Saturday Night Live with Carrie Underwood, and in 2012 Star Wars novelist Drew Karpyshyn named Manning the NFL personality most likely to become a Jedi Knight.
Yet, with Manning's copious amount of popularity comes a dark side. Although not officially diagnosed, Manning appears to suffer from middle child syndrome. He is a tightly wound perfectionist, often brutal to mistake-making teammates, and has one less Super Bowl ring than his younger brother, Eli. The middle brother returned to Tennessee his senior year just to defeat the University of Florida for the first time, only to fail. Although Manning has won 160 out of 230 regular season record, he has become infamous for crumbling in big games with losing 11 out of 20 playoff appearances. Manning rarely behaves well when he has something to prove.
Manning has been falsely smothered in praise for transforming Indianapolis from a sleepy Midwestern town (Indy is nicknamed "Naptown") with nothing more than a car race and a nice children's museum, to a modern metropolis. Unproven theories that the Colts would have bolted for another town if weren't for Manning have been rampant for years. Furthermore, a major part of the Indianapolis renaissance is Lucas Oil Field (a.k.a. The House That Manning Built). A state of the art complex that hosted a Super Bowl only two years ago, a game won by younger brother Eli, the arena can hold up to 70,000 patrons, has a mechanized retractable roof, and movable window walls. Lucas Oil is the Death Star of modern day sporting arenas. However, considering that Lucas Oil Stadium was built with $620 million in local taxpayer money, calling it "The House Manning Built" is a tad silly.
The major architect, the grand emperor of the Colts, has become owner Jim Irsay. Irsay, a slightly odd and crafty fox of an operator, obtained the team when his father died in 1997. Irsay engaged in a legal battle with his stepmother over ownership of the team, but later became the youngest NFL team owner at 37. Irsay has music and movie stars as friends, was close to Hunter S. Thompson, and uses Twitter as an extension of fan interaction. In 2009 Irsay was vocal about preventing a group that included talk-show host Rush Limbaugh from purchasing the St. Louis Rams. "I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him," Irsay said at an NFL owners meeting. "When there are comments that have been made that are inappropriate, incendiary and insensitive... our words do damage, and it's something we don't need." Irsay knows a lot about using rhetoric, and manipulating the media. He studied broadcast journalism at Southern Methodist University. The Colts have only had three losing seasons since the son took the thrown, and Irsay was the one who got Indianapolis to pony up all that tax payer money for the stadium.
One of those three losing seasons came in Manning's last with the Colts. With a neck injury Manning did not play a single game in 2011, and the Colts went 2-14 without him. With an aging team built more for football played a decade ago, and a bloated salary cap, Irsay saw his team unraveling at the seams. Piece-by-piece Irsay dismantled his empire, first firing the front office, then the trainer, the coaching staff, then dumping the players, including the first over all draft pick of 1998. Manning was released by the Colts on March 7, 2012, and signed with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012. As Manning publicly protested the moves of Irsay, the owner responded by saying nothing is bigger than the team, making Manning look selfish.
That spring the Colts drafted Andrew Luck with the first draft selection. Luck is arguably he best quarterback prospect since Manning. Luck is as big and strong as a wookiee, and can read defenses as well as anyone, even Manning, but he has a "Je ne sais pas ce qui se passé" that Manning doesn't. Luck has a feel for the game, an intuitiveness, that has lead to nine forth quarter come backs, and Luck lead the Colts to the play-offs in his rookie season, something Manning was unable to do. If Peyton Manning is a Jedi Knight, Andrew Luck is most certainly Han Solo, the luckiest character in Star Wars.
This Sunday, Manning returns to Lucas Oil, the Death Star, for the first time since he put on a Broncos uniform. Manning will play the Colts and have something to prove, like the way he did against the University of Florida. He wants to show Irsay he made a mistake by letting him go, but Irsay is already one step ahead of him coming out in USA Today this week stating that he has no regrets letting his former quarterback leave. Is Irsay trying to get under Peyton's skin? Is he trying to make the hate flow through him? That usual doesn't end well, and Irsay, the manipulator, knows that.
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