Apr 27, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback and number one overall draft choice Andrew Luck (right) greets owner Jim Irsay to a press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
IF you didn’t know, there is a big game scheduled for Sunday Night on NBC. It seems like forever since the Colts have played on Sunday Night Football. The last time the Colts played on Sunday night, they were mercilessly beaten by the New Orleans Saints. Thankfully the Colts get to host this one, and have a much better team than last time.
I jokingly called this game the “Return of Jacob Tamme” on Twitter earlier this week. Although yes, former Colts TE Tamme will be returning as a member of the Denver Broncos, the idea that the only headline could be about Tamme and his return heading into Sunday night is not such a ridiculous one. How so? Only if Peyton Manning was still a member of the Indianapolis Colts. It’s a question that many Colts fans will hear asked and will have to personally answer for many years to come, far past Peyton’s playing days are done. So with that in mind, I will take time to give you my answer. This will be fun.
“I would like to play for you, but if you don’t pick me, I will kick your ass for the next 15 years.” It was these words that a young Peyton Manning told Jim Irsay days before the 1998 NFL Draft. Thankfully Irsay listened, and the Colts enjoyed many years of success unlike any other in Indianapolis. After a rough rookie season in which the Colts went 3-13, Peyton Manning led the Colts to 13-3 in his sophomore season and never looked back.
Andrew Luck compares quite nicely to the young Peyton Manning at this point in his career. As the saying goes, Statisticians may lie, but stats don’t. Let’s take a look at Peyton vs. Andrew through their first 21 games played in the NFL. Peyton leads Andrew in completion percentage 57.5 – 55.7. Stats show that Andrew Luck is less of a liability passing the ball, although he has fewer touchdowns passes (37-30); Peyton leads the two with interceptions (35-20). When it comes to passer rating, arguably the biggest stat of them all, Luck beats Peyton 80-75.5%. Of all the No. 1 overall draft picks, Andrew Luck leads in most passing yards through 21 starts. Peyton Manning ranks 3rd. Statistics don’t matter unless you are winning. Luck has the most wins in 21 starts for a first overall pick, with 15, beating John Elway with 14. Peyton Manning has the 4th fewest wins in 21 starts, tied with David Carr, JaMarcus Russell and Vinny Testaverde. Although Manning had a rough start in the win column, a 13-3 season for Luck in his second year doesn’t seem like a goal that will be reached. Manning’s 13-3 season also has a lot to do with strength of schedule after a 3-13 year. The schedule is a lot harder for Luck in his second year after taking the Colts to the Playoffs in his first. They say never bet on a horse named Lucky, but a horse named Luck? Well that’s just a different story.
Although a lot wiser, it was the same Peyton Manning, facing the most emotionally difficult situation of his professional career, who said “You’ve got to take Andrew. You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t.” Peyton gave no reason for anyone to doubt his bold statement as a rookie, so why would Irsay not listen now? For Peyton to say this after all he has done for Indianapolis on and off the field speaks volumes about his character. If there was one thing every Colts fan knew, it was to trust what Peyton said. Irsay knew this quite well, and it was Peyton’s advice he took again when the Colts released Manning on March 8th, 2012.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for Peyton to say goodbye following the news. It was a massive madhouse cleaning following a 2-14 season and an offseason in which the Colts fired many coaches including head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as long time front office staff members Bill and Chris Polian. Let’s not forget that Manning’s beloved Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore had just recently retired too. To back up that the Colts had made the right decision, who did Manning have to go back to? Unfortunately Manning had to part ways with many dear friends in the organization who played big roles in his career behind the scenes, but there were new sheriffs in town in terms of coaching staff and GM. At times you say that unfortunately football in the long run is business, and realize that this new staff had no pre-existing ties to Peyton before their arrival, just his respect. In the biggest act of humility, I believe Manning knew this deep down, and in some ways saw his potential return to the Colts as an act that could hinder the “new” Colts in the long run. As big as Peyton Manning is, it was still him that at one point said “The head coach tells us what to do, and we follow his orders.” Not me, not I, but We.
Shortly after the release of Peyton Manning, the Colts cut ties with fan favorites Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt, center Jeff Saturday, and tight end Dallas Clark. Quarterback Curtis Painter also was released. Considering that these players are either backups, playing due to a long list of injuries, or are either without a job, nothing is to say that Grigson and Co. wouldn’t have cut these players even with Peyton still there. They were clearly salary cap casualties. As I said before, the Colts reeked of rebuild, and Peyton knew it. Imagine the 2012 NFL Draft with Peyton still there. Ironically the Colts would’ve probably drafted Trent Richardson, but the rest is up in the air. Do the Colts take a “protect Manning” approach? Or do they draft offensive weapons to surround him with? Tough question.
Andrew Luck took some shots last year. And not just some stumbles to the ground. I am talking about some huge hits on just about every offensive series last season. Can you imagine if that was Peyton? How awful that would be. How could you justify exposing him to take such huge shots knowing that one wrong or big hit could do a lot more damage than just end his playing career? The answer is you can’t. That’s why the Colts gave Manning the most appropriate and graceful leave they could possibly give the Hall of Fame Quarterback, and thus drafted Andrew Luck.
If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the Colts absolutely made the right choice drafting Luck and letting Manning go. You see, the goal was for Manning was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended. If the Denver Broncos can continue their rampage through the NFL and avoid the injury bug, I honestly don’t know who can stop them. Goal reached? Absolutely.
Enjoy every moment of Manning’s tribute on Sunday. It may make you shed a tear; I have a feeling I will. But remember this, Manning is happy, healthy, killing it in Denver, and more than grateful for the opportunity that Irsay gave to him to continue his career in a place set up more for success now than the Colts. And for a Colts perspective? The dark rain clouds that covered the organization for a good year or so are gone, and with Luck, blue cloudless skies are all that cover the Colts and 500 S Capitol Ave.