Thank You, Peyton: Reflecting on 14 Incredible Years

It’s official. 

The Indianapolis Colts today announced that they are parting ways with quarterback Peyton Manning after 14 spectacular seasons. 

From 1998-2010, Manning and the Colts experienced one of the greatest runs in NFL history.  After a 3-13 rookie campaign in 1998, Manning and the Colts emerged to the number 1 seed in the AFC, a 13-3 record, and the biggest single season turnaround in league history. 

In 2000 Manning posted a 33 touchdown season, tying his second highest total of his career (matched in 2009 and 2010 and surpassed in 2004).  He threw for 4413 yards and the Colts made the playoffs for the second consecutive year – another loss, this time to the New York Jets. 

The Colts mustered only 6 wins in 2001, as star running back Edgerrin James tore his ACL and the Colts struggled without him.  Manning threw 26 touchdowns and 23 interceptions after throwing only 15 each of the past two years.  Head coach Jim Mora was fired after the season, and that paved way for defensive mastermind Tony Dungy to take over. 

In 2002, Dungy’s first season at the helm, the Colts once again made the playoffs with a 10-6 record, this time getting blown out 41-0 to the Jets in the only shutout of Manning’s career.  

By 2003, Manning was becoming one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best, in the NFL.  Manning won the first of his NFL record 4 MVP awards (shared with Steve McNair). 

The 2003 playoffs brought with it maybe the most incredible two game run ever witnessed, starting with a wild card win over the Denver Broncos.  Manning was 22-of-26 for 377 yards and 5 touchdowns on his way to a perfect passer rating, 158.3.  The Colts won 41-10, Manning’s first career playoff win.  The next week, the Colts traveled to Kansas City to play the Chiefs, where they emerged victorious 38-31 in front of a very hostile crowd.  Manning completed 22-of-30 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns.  In his first two playoff games of 2004 (2003 season), Manning completed 44-of-56 passes for 681 yards and 8 touchdowns.  The Colts then lost the AFC Championship game to the eventual super bowl champion Patriots. 

Then came 2004.  Manning had what was at the time the most prolific season ever by a quarterback.  En route to his second straight MVP award and the Colts’ 3rd straight playoff appearance, Manning threw for 49 touchdowns, breaking Dan Marino’s longstanding record of 48.  Even more amazing was that Manning did it in just 15 games, as he sat out for most of the regular season finale.  

My favorite moment of 2004, though, came just after that record-breaking 49th touchdown to Brandon Stokley.  It came with 56 seconds remaining in a game the Colts were trailing. .  Instead of celebrating, Manning hurried his team to the line to try for the tying two point conversion.  A draw to Edgerrin James, and the score was tied at 31.  Typical Peyton Manning.  [NOTE: the Colts went on to win the game in overtime, 34-31.]

 Then came 2005, statistically Manning’s worst season besides 1998, but also probably the best team the Colts have had.  The Colts posted a 14-2 record, but like previous years, they exited the playoffs early.  I still have  a newspaper from the Indianapolis Star following the playoff loss to the eventual super bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  The headline on one of the articles reads “After Latest Meltdown, Can Colts Win the Big One?” 

It did not take the Colts long to answer. 

In 2006, Manning threw for 31 touchdowns and a career best 9 interceptions.  The Colts entered the playoffs 12-4, but with serious questions about their defense.  The defense turned around completely, however, and they won the Colts their first two playoff games against the Chiefs and the Ravens, respectively.  

Then it was Manning’s turn. 

In the 2006 AFC Championship game against their biggest rival, the 3-time super bowl champion New England Patriots, the Colts faced a 21-6 halftime deficit at home.  In the second half, Peyton Manning played the greatest half in his life in what I now call “The Greatest Game in Colts History”.  The Colts mounted the greatest comeback in conference championship game history and advanced to their first super bowl with a 38-34 victory.  

In Super Bowl XLI, the Colts weathered the rain and the Chicago Bears in a bit of an anticlimactic game after the AFC Championship.  Manning won the game’s MVP after the Colts 29-17 win.  

To start the defense of their Lombardi Trophy, the Colts hosted the New Orleans Saints to kick off the 2007 season in what was also the final home opener in the RCA Dome.  Jason David, the Colts starting corner back from 2004-2006, was now on the Saints.  Manning lit him up.  All three of Manning’s touchdowns were against David, throwing one to Marvin Harrison and two to Reggie Wayne. 

The 2008 season brought with it plenty of adversity.  Peyton Manning was coming off offseason knee surgery, and although he did not miss a game, he was not at full strength.  The Colts struggled to a 3-4 start.  Then, Peyton Manning raised his play to perhaps the highest level we have seen.  The Colts ended the season on a remarkable 9 game win streak, and Manning won his 3rd MVP award.  

If any season were to be considered Manning’s “best” season, it would probably be 2009.  As the Colts quarterback in the 4th quarter, Manning went 16-1, with the only loss coming to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.  The Colts went 14-2 in the regular season, but only because they decided to rest Manning for much of the final two games of the regular season.  Manning won his 4th and final MVP award.

 2010 was viewed at as a “bad” season for Peyton Manning by many common observers, and the fact serves as a testament to his greatness.  Manning played like the MVP of the league for 11 weeks, but also had a 5 week stretch where Manning threw 13 interceptions.  But when it counted, Manning led the Colts on a gutsy 4 game winning streak to get an extremely injury riddled team to the playoffs with a 10-6 record.  Despite their heartbreaking loss to the Jets in what was Peyton Manning’s final game in a Colts uniform, the season was still a success and Manning still played like the MVP. 

And then, in September 2011, Peyton Manning missed the first start of his career, a loss to the Texans, due to a neck injury.  One start turned into 16.  Manning sat out the entire year and the Colts finished with a league worst 2-14 record.  That left them in a position to draft Andrew Luck, the hottest quarterback prospect since Manning, and maybe before.  

And on March 7, 2012, the Colts officially parted ways with Peyton Manning.  

Manning was owed too much money.  The Colts want to rebuild.  The Colts want Luck.  

For the first time in 14 years, Peyton Manning is no longer a member of the Indianapolis Colts. 

I know I have been preparing for this for a while, but it hurts a lot now that it is official. 

Peyton will always be Indy’s Hero.  

I sincerely wish Peyton Manning the best.  For the first time in my life, I will have a second favorite team.  It will be wherever Manning ends up.  For everything he has done in Indianapolis, he deserves a fitting end. 

Thank you Peyton, for everything. 

You will always be my favorite player. 

You will always be a Colt.

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About Josh Wilson
Follow Josh on twitter @jwilsonWL, on Facebook at the Operation: Freedom page, or you can reach him by email at operation.freedom@yahoo.com.

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