In the summer of 1998, I was six years old.
The Colts had just come off of a 3-13 season, and I was just beginning to understand the game that my dad watched every Sunday. I was an inquisitive child, the type that wouldn't stop asking Dad questions as he tried to fold laundry and watch the game at the same time (that was always the deal in our house, football meant the boys had to help with laundry).
The first thing I can ever remember my dad saying to me about football was how excited he was for the Colts' new quarterback, some hotshot guy named Peyton Manning. I didn't know much about the game, but I knew the Colts were my favorite team, and I knew that the guy with the funny name throwing the football was supposed to be good.
It was October 4, 1998.
The Colts and their rookie quarterback finally got their first win in Week 5, against the Chargers and the #2 overall draft pick Ryan Leaf.
It wasn't a particularly good game, with Manning and Leaf both playing pretty poorly, and the game really being decided by turnovers. But, nevertheless, it was Manning's first win, and the first one of my young fanhood.
I grew up in Yuma, Arizona. The only reason I was a Colts fan was because my dad had done a project on Johnny Unitas as a kid, and picked the Colts to root for, even though they were the worst team in the league.
I had no affiliation with Indiana, no family in Baltimore. I probably couldn't even tell you where Indianapolis was on a map.
But the Colts were my team.
It was November 15, 1998.
After falling down 23-10 to the Jets at halftime, the Colts had one more chance to win the game, down 17-23, courtesy of a Manning touchdown pass in the third quarter. Now they received the ball on their own 20 yard line, with 3:02 left in the game. Manning completed his first two passes to Marvin Harrison, but after two penalties and three incomplete passes, it was 3rd and 20. Manning connected with Harrison for 10, but then got hit with a delay-of-game penalty.
It was 4th and 15.
Manning made the first clutch throw of his career, hitting Marshall Faulk for 18 yards and the first down. Manning learned from that delay-of-game penalty, and managed the clock, and field, flawlessly for the rest of the drive, ending with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Pollard with 24 seconds left on the clock.
This was first game winning drive of many.
After Manning's rookie year I was a full-fledged Colts fan. I've always been competitive, and getting a team to latch on to was another thing for me to argue with my friends about.
For my 7th birthday I got a Peyton Manning rookie card, my first birthday present I can actually remember. It was exactly what I wanted, and I had drooled over it at the little hobby shop by the grocery store for weeks. I couldn't have been happier.
It was January 15, 2000
The Colts had just lost to the Tennessee Titans in an ugly divisional round playoff game. Manning didn't play a very good game, going 19/42 for 227 yards. Down 10 with just 3:11 left on the clock, Manning had led a 61-yard TD drive in only a minute and 21 seconds, but the Colts had no time outs left after the drive. After a failed onside kick, the Titans knelt on three straight plays.
I was only 7, turning 8, and I cried. The first of many playoff cries.
I used to idolize Marvin Harrison. I always said that he was my favorite player, but it wasn't until after he left the Colts that I realized that my adoration of Manning far outweighed my love for Harrison.
Don't get me wrong, Harrison is easily my second-favorite player. I spent countless hours on the front lawn, running pass patterns as my dad tossed me the ball. That was my first education of the game, as I learned post routes, flags, ins, outs, slants, button-hooks, and my favorite: the out 'n up (or pump and go). I pictured myself as Marvin, running those routes until I was ragged.
But it wasn't the same as Peyton. I wasn't personally attached to Marvin in quite the same way.
It was November 24, 2002.
The game was airing on ESPN's Sunday Night Football, and the Colts were down three with 1:40 to go in the game. It was snowy, windy, and downright nasty in Mile High Stadium. Manning hadn't playing particularly well, but they had a chance to win now, starting at their own 20.
Manning hit Wayne and Harrison each to gain 11 yards, then took it himself for three, and then nine yards to get to the Colts' 43. After catching the defense offside, Manning threw three straight in-completions, leaving the Colts with a 4th and 5. He calmly hit Qadry Ismail for a 16 yard gain, setting up the Colts for what would be a 54 yard, game-tying field goal.
Mike Vanderjagt hit the kick with just seconds left, sending the game into overtime, where the Colts received the kick. Manning relied on James Mungro for 21 yards on that drive, but hit crucial passes, notably his 3rd down pass to Marvin Harrison (his 11th catch of the night). On 4th and 5 at the Denver 33, Vanderjagt again hit a 51 yarder in the snow, this time for the win. Our family was ecstatic, and probably scared the friends we were with our celebration.
As a kid growing up in Arizona, we didn't get to watch many Colts games. We were on the west coast, and only received three channels: FOX, CBS, and NBC. When the Colts were on (which was rarely), they were usually on during the early slot, and by the time we got back from church, it was half over.
When the Colts were on Monday Night Football or ESPN for Sunday nights, we would have to find a way to watch it at a friend's house with cable. MNF was one that we always got to see. Every time the Colts played on ABC, my dad took me to Mr. Nelson's house to watch the game. Even if it wasn't his team playing (the Vikings), Mr. Nelson always let us stay until the end.
It was a good thing too, or we may have missed something.
It was October 6, 2003.
The Colts were down 35-14 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 3:43 left in the 4th quarter. I'd convinced my dad to stay at the Nelson's for just one more drive, but Dad said we would leave if they didn't score on this drive. Fortunately, Brad Pyatt gave the Colts a short field with a 90-yard kick return. On third down, Manning's throw to Troy Walters was just short of the sticks, but James Mungro scored on 4th and 1 from the three yard line.
Idrees Bashir made a leaping grab to get the onside kick, and the Colts had new life. Manning hit a wide-open Walter on first down for 15 yards, and then hit Harrison for another first down. After a false start by Tarik Glenn and a couple short passes, the Colts faced a 4th and 6 from the 28. Again, Dad reminded me that we'd be leaving if they didn't score on this drive. Buying time, Manning found Harrison for a 28-yard touchdown, prolonging my stay at the Nelson's.
Although they didn't get the onside kick, the Colts' defense held, and the offense got the ball with 1:41 left, on their own 15. The Bucs sniffed out the screen on first down, but Manning found Walters again for 12 yards on 2nd and 10, despite facing heavy pressure (which resulted in a roughing the passer penalty). On the next play, Manning threw a beautiful ball to a streaking Marvin Harrison for 52 yards. Two runs later, Ricky Williams scored for the game-tying touchdown, and Al Michaels and John Madden were stunned.
In overtime, the Colts defense again stood strong, giving Manning the ball back at their own 13. Manning marched down the field, converting three crucial third downs with passes to Harrison, Wayne, and Walters. Although, Vanderjagt missed the potential game-winner, a controversial call gave him another chance. Vandy tried his best to choke for the Colts, but it was their time, and the ball bounced off the uprights to win the game.
It was a great night to be a Colts fan.
In the summer of 2004, my family uprooted and moved from Yuma, Arizona to Middleville, MI. It was a hard move for me, but one of the positives was the possibility of seeing more Colts games, and maybe, just maybe, getting to see one live.
That possibility would become reality in 2004, as we got to see an unprecedented number of games on TV, and were even able to attend the wild card game against the Broncos. It was a fantastic experience, being able to see a game in the RCA Dome, and getting to see the city for the first time as well. But that game wasn't the one that stuck out that season.
It was December 26th, 2004.
The Colts were battling for the #3 seed in the AFC, and Manning was searching for the touchdown passes that would finally pass Dan Marino's record. Getting the ball at their own 20, Manning orchestrated a beautiful drive, although it almost stalled on 4th and 4 at their own 26. Although Tony Dungy tried to send in the punt team, Manning waved them off, and promptly threw a perfect pass to a tightly covered Reggie Wayne for 19 yards.
The drive was capped off by a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley down the middle, and it was one of the prettiest throws I've seen, Manning throwing a bullet to the perfect place before Stokley even made his break. A fitting throw to break Marino's record.
In overtime, Manning drove the Colts 58 yards on two passes to Stokley and Wayne, setting up Vanderjagt with a 30 yard field goal. The win was a classic Manning comeback, and one that my family and I got to watch in our new home, the first game that we would watch from the house I would spend the rest of my teen years in.
Throughout those first two years in Michigan, football was the easiest way for me to connect with other kids. I could always turn the conversation back to sports, and being in Lions country, I always found pride in the fact that my team was the perpetual winner, the 2004 Thanksgiving game was especially fun for me.
But, the fact that everyone knew that I was a Colts fan always came back to bite me. When the Colts season ended in a playoff loss, I knew I was going to face a constant barrage of ribbing for a few days back at school. Fortunately, my freshman year of high school didn't include such a day.
It was January 21, 2007.
The Colts were down three with 2:17 left, after a miraculous comeback in the second half. After throwing a pick-six in the second quarter, the Colts found themselves down 21-3. But Adam Vinatieri hit a field goal with 11 seconds left in the half, and the Colts came storming out in the second half, scoring three touchdowns on their first three drives. But now, with just over two minutes left, the Colts were down again, 31-34.
“This could be the drive that changes so many things for Peyton Manning,” said Jim Nantz, as Manning took the first snap of the drive.
And Manning took control, as he had throughout the second half.
An eleven yard out to Reggie Wayne. First down.
Getting away from pressure, Manning threw an incomplete pass.
A 32 yard deep corner route to Bryan Fletcher. First down.
A 14 yard crossing route to Reggie Wayne, combined with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, put the Colts on the Patriots' 11-yard line with 1:53 left on the clock. 69 yards in just 24 seconds.
Recognizing the time left, Manning and the Colts ran the ball three straight times. On the third run, on 3rd and 2, Joseph Addai burst through the hole for a touchdown, and the RCA Dome exploded. Indianapolis lit up. My family was in a frenzy. Bob Lamey could hardly get coherent words out of his mouth.
But it wasn't over. As Tom Brady hit two long passes to get to the Colts 45, Manning sat on the bench, head bowed.
“I don't even think Peyton is going to watch,” said Nantz.
But he did watch. And as Marlin Jackson made the biggest play of his life, Peyton Manning smiled bigger than he had in his entire career. Meanwhile, my house erupted in chants of “We're going to the Super Bowl!” along with Bob Lamey and the rest of Indianapolis.
This was the Colts' Super Bowl. The next week was a mere formality. This was the game that defined Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts, their fans, and one freshman in high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I used to cry when the Colts would lose a playoff game. It wasn't just the loss. It was the knowledge that there wouldn't be another game the next week. I loved all of those iconic games, but they always seemed to end in tears. The season, which had been successful more often than not under Manning, had given me so many moments, points in time where the elation I felt could not be matched, was now over.
That was the power of Manning. He gave a city, a state, a team, a family, and a boy so many of those highs, times that we'll never forget.
But after each playoff loss, I knew that those moments were over, for at least another seven months. I knew that I would have to wait, and that the next season's team wouldn't be the same, and that those moments wouldn't be the same.
But after that 2006 season, I never cried again. Part of it was because I was getting older. You weren't supposed to cry because of some football game in another state.
But a big part of it was knowing that at any time, it could happen again. Manning, and the magic he brought to the Colts' franchise, could create another improbable run that would end in the pinnacle of sports fanhood.
Maybe that's why this ending has seemed so hard.
The era is now over. A quarterback, a team who has given me so many of those snapshots in time, is now gone. It won't ever be replaced, it won't ever quite be the same. As Jim Irsay said Wednesday, “There will be no other Peyton Manning.”
There will be another season, but it's five months away, and Manning won't be a Colt. There will be other wins, other comebacks, and other playoff runs, but it won't be the same.
It was March 7th, 2011.
Jim Irsay had just spoken for six minutes, breaking down as he recalled the journey that he and his beloved quarterback had been through over the past 14 years.
But now, Peyton Manning stepped up to the podium. And all of Indiana, and fans across the world, stopped and listened. Schools piped in the audio over the intercom, fans watched the streaming video at work, and media members held their breath as Manning read his prepared statement.
“I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts,” Manning said, his southern drawl coming out in full force.
He gushed about the Colts, about Indiana, and about Jim Irsay, lamenting the painful circumstances that forced this divorce.
“This town, and this team, mean so much to me,” Manning said, choking up as tears began to well in his eyes. “It truly has been an honor, to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans, and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team.”
Jim Irsay, crying in the background, listened as Manning described just how much the last 14 years had meant to him. We, the fans, watched and listened to Manning, feeling nothing but gratitude towards a man who may never know just how important he was to us.
“And as I go, I go with just a few words left to say, a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere.”
Manning looked up from his notes, directly into the cameras, tears glistening from the corners of his eyes, and spoke to Colts Nation.
“Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
And I cried. One last time.
Thank you Peyton Manning. From the bottom of all our hearts, thank you. We will never forget.
@ColtsAuth_Kyle Great story Kyle. I'm a 23 year old Colts fan who grew up in Utah. I have many of the same memories you have. Thank you
@ColtsAuth_Kyle Awesome story Kyle, I have a lot of the same memories as you do being a young Colts fan
This was amazing Kyle. As an immigrant in the US, I have been watching Manning and the Colts from about 2003 onward. I became a fan after that MNF game against Tampa Bay. And though I knew this day was coming as soon as it became clear that Indy was getting the #1 draft pick (and this being pro football and all those cliches) it still felt like a punch to the stomach.
You could tell from that press conference that Manning meant every word of it when he spoke about what being a Colt meant to him.
A great player, but a better person.
I wrote my story of how I became a Colts fan on SB awhile ago. Here it is if you're interested..
Horseshoe diaries was starting kind of slow, and all of a sudden, the flood gates are open. Thanks for sharing, guys. Sadness is bringing out the wistful creativity in this community!
January 21st 2007
Being a missionary kid meant that I grew up in 4 different countries and 5 different states… And along with all the moving came little knowledge of “American Football”. When we moved back to the USA in September of 2006 I made it a point to start watching football. We moved to Greenwood Indiana, and this was the start of my love for the Colts. At the time EVERYONE and their Grandmother was wearing this #18 jersey. Who in the hell is Manning and why does everyone love him, even people that don’t watch football? At the time, I couldn’t understand it. What I did understand was #21 The Zombie, he got my attention from the first hit of the first game I saw. Man that guy is ruthless! I was hooked.
As we entered the playoffs the church my family attended had an awesome youth group. And what I mean by this is I was dating the would be captain of my rivals cheerleading squad. Life was awesome. Every Sunday the Church would host a Colt’s party and project it on a huge screen in the gym.
I remember January 21st was a special night.
There was probably 50 of us that watched the first half; I was cheering my heart out. Some obnoxious jock wanted to suddenly be a bears fan, and I wasn’t having it. When Prince came on, me and this cheerleader decided to sneak away from the show to the upstairs choir room. We had just started dating. As I recall the room was locked because we spent most of our time on the landing by the stairs. I made some humorous comparisons to sports and other physical activities. Touchdowns. Sacks. Ball handling skills. Etc. She tried to make me feel bad that we were in a CHURCH. It didn’t work. As time went on we eventually heard the cheers from downstairs, and realized Prince was over and the second half was on. We didn’t care. We were in love. Trust me; 16 year olds know what love is! We tried to keep track of the score. Every time a handful of people scored we knew the Bears went up. When we could literally feel the Church shaking we knew the Colts went up. I remember walking downstairs into the gym, squinting because I was trying to adjust to the bright lights, smiling from ear to ear. 29-17. What a victorious night. My love for football and the Colts had only just begun, but I knew this was something special.
The great AFC Championship game wasn't on January 21, 2006, it was January 21, *2007*. I remember it well because I could have been there but I missed it. I was in Japan.
That season I was living in a rural part of Japan with pretty much zero chance of seeing a game on TV so I got by on the puny play-by-play applet from Yahoo. I knew the Colts were headed for another division title but I also knew the holes on defense were (again) big enough to drive a truck through. I knew the end of this story and I wasn't letting myself get too excited.
Then Bob Sanders came back. The Colts shut out the Chiefs for damn near three quarters. I let myself get more interested.
The Colts beat the Ravens in a historic kickers' duel. I talked on an on about it over breakfast to a roomful of people who had no idea what I was saying. I didn't care. The Colts were winning with defense! Really!
I "watched" the AFC championship game on the Yahoo applet while I was supposed to be working. Tie game, Pats up, tie game, Pats up, tie game, Pats up! God dammit, Peyton, put this one away! You can do it! YES! JOE ADDAI, YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN! Just one minute to go- NO! Brady, you bastard, you can't take this from me!! OMIGOD, A PICK?? SERIOUSLY?? I couldn't hear Lamey making the call but I was saying the exact same thing, WE'RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL! At lunch I was bouncing off the walls and everyone was looking at me like I had lost my damn mind. And I had! SUPER BOWL, BABY!!
My wife, who is awesome in every way, arranged for us to get time off and found a sports bar in Tokyo that was showing the game live. We woke up goofy early and sat on a train for three hours to get to Tokyo. Kickoff was at 7:25am (Japan is 13 hours ahead, folks). The bar was charging a flat 5,000 yen (about $42 at the time) to watch the game but that included an open bar and a buffet "American" breakfast (beer and reconstituted powdered eggs, yum!). They were damn sure going to squeeze out every yen they could make that day, which meant squeezing in expat football fans and their Japanese girlfriends until the whole place was standing room only, shoulder-to-shoulder.
Would you believe that Bears fans have colonized Japan? It damn sure felt that way in that bar on Super Bowl Sunday/Monday. About two thirds of the guys in there were dressed head-to-toe in Bears gear with only a smattering of Colts blue. The Bears fans were all high-fiving each other over the rainy conditions, convinced that their rugged, all-weather team was about to put the hurt on these soft dome weenies. And then, on the very first play, Hester runs that damn kickoff back for a touchdown. Just like that, the Colts spot the Bears a seven-point lead. My heart sank and I determined to avail myself of that open bar just as fast as I could.
Fortunately things turned around. The Colts pulled out the lead going into halftime but it was only two-point lead and both sides had plenty to feel good about. And really, the atmosphere in that bar was about as friendly as you can get. We were all expats, all strangers in a strange land, just taking a few hours to pretend like we were back in our own hometowns watching the game as usual. At heart we were all buddies.
At least, that's how it was until Prince came on. You folks watching the game at home might remember Prince's performance as "merely" one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows of all time. For the guys in that Tokyo bar, almost all of them children of the '80s like me, it was utterly fucking transcendent. That performance, those songs, didn't just remind us of home, they took us back there. Back to home, back to childhood, a packed bar full of guys hollered off-key to "Let's Go Crazy" and "Purple Rain" until it felt like the rafters were going to shake loose. The Superb Owl made us all buddies but Prince made us blood brothers. It probably didn't hurt that we were all drunker than skunks at 10:00 in the morning.
Memories get a little hazy after that (did I mention the open bar?) so I'll fall back on the classic "the rest, as they say, is history". Slowly the Colts rode Vinny's leg to a nice lead in the third quarter, then Hayden and Sanders broke it open with picks on back-to-back drives. The Bears fans, somehow dejected and cheerful (and still blind drunk) all at the same time, filed out back to their Tokyo jobs and I napped happily on the train all the way home. The Colts were Super Bowl champions and I got to see it.
Holy crap, this turned out a lot longer than I thought it would. I guess a lot of our favorite stories are like that. Anyway, thanks to Peyton and the Colts for this and all the other great memories over the years.
I've not yet watched the PC. Have a link cued up in Youtube, but I'm really not sure I want to do that to myself.
Ugh - you're making me cry! I'm with ya, dude. Terrible terrible loss for Indy and the Colts. Manning is supposed to be Colt until he retires. :-(
@vishal_07 Although the ending to the era was sudden, painful, and it should have ended with his retirement, that press conference went about as perfect as it could for a Manning send off. I could not have scripted it better.
@squirrel I was in Korea for the golden years, and wish I'd made it to a super bowl party in 2007 but couldn't. I remember I had to work during the AFC Championship and was half-following it on the Fox play tracker from my office on the military academy campus. Score got so bad I found other work and thought how lucky I was that most of my friends either didn't watch sports or were English and Kiwi and so did not understand what the word "football" actually signified. Then my friend and neighbor, who's from Indiana, came in and told me they were mounting a comeback. I pretty much ran the mile or so back to my apartment in my suit and dress shoes to turn on the Armed Forces Network. I was jumping around like crazy, all by myself, and didn't even think of the AFCCG the Patriots had mugged away from the Colts' receivers a couple years before, or the brutal, brutal Steelers loss--though I still don't understand why the Colts never figured out Roethlisberger was just throwing curl routes to Heath Miller all damn day.
Super Bowl day, I gave serious consideration to blowing off the visit to the hospital to find out why I'd been coughing up blood so I could watch the game. Instead I found a way to record a stream to my hard drive (no small feat for someone with a thereIfixedit approach to computers, even if I'm no technophobe) and let everyone know not to communicate with me at all that day. The cab was the best $50 I've ever spent, and shelling out a crazy amount on my first Mac instantly made sense. The kick return was bad enough, but that big run they gave up a couple plays afterwards had me almost shaking. The bomb to Reggie gave me a little hope--Manning had, if I'm not mistaken, thirteen Bears, Mike Ditka, the ghost of Richard Dayey and a crate of chili dogs all hanging off of him as he launched it, and Reeegggiiee still caught it in stride, 50 yards away. Then Joe Addai and Dominic Rhodes started beating the Bears at their own game. I was both a Bears fan and a Colts fan as a kid--the Colts were always on since I grew up just outside of Indianapolis, but the Bears were winning and, anyway, I've always loved Chicago. So I had some deeply mixed emotions. When Hayden picked off that pass, however, that all ended. I believe I probably frightened all the housewives in the rickety old apartment building and my only regret is I hadn't laid in any champagne with which to douse myself (the year before, I would have preferred kerosene and a Zippo). By the time the game ended, since I'd started it late and Korea's so far ahead, it was around 3a back in Indiana. I realized this about two minutes after my parents answered the phone and I commenced yelling and whooping.
For all the Gary Hogeboom and Jeff George days, for Kordell Stewart catching a touchdown in 1996 after first running into the stands and then coming back on the field, for those horrendous playoff losses to Cleveland, for 41-0 the day my second nephew was born, for the gri-gri someone put on Steve Emtmann's knees (first Colts jersey I ever owned), that day alone was probably the very peak of my football fandom and only barely edged out by Keith Smart over Rony Seikaly because I was 10 when that happened and you get nostalgic for those days. I watched every damn game last season and I'll be in my Jeff Saturday jersey for every game next season--I'm a Colts fan, and fandom does not make sense--and I'll be able to take it all knowing that, whatever else the Colts have done in their past, they got a ring. And more wins in the last decade than the Cardinals in 114 years or the Jets in the last, I believe, 50. And they did it clean.
@squirrel Awesome right. Thanks for taking the time.
@squirrel Whoops! good catch. And great story. I love this stuff.
@DougEngland Me too. I swear he was talking to me.
@DougEngland Yeah me too! Watching it live got to me... And reading this made it all come back!
@DougEngland That line killed me.
@DougEngland I hear you. Just broken down and decided to watch it. Maybe it's just the emotion of the situation, but he's got a way with words. Dude's not only the GOAT, he's a poet. ;)
@Kyle Rodriguez It´s simply beautiful. I´m glad we´re the kind of fans raised by Peyton Manning and his Colts (that goes for Bill Polian as well). We´re more than Colts fanatics; we´re lovers (you get my meaning), and you need a QB as singular as Peyton to generate that sort of respect and wonder for the game.