The Manning era is over in Indy but let’s enjoy Peyton’s presence while we still can

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning walks off the field after throwing an interception in the final moments of their NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Even though this moment has been coming for a couple of months, it still seems sudden. Weird. Wrong even.

I can still remember thinking that the Colts made a poor decision by drafting Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf. “Look at this feet,” I used to say while watching Tennessee games. “He’s so jittery in the pocket. He’s going to be an erratic passer in the NFL.”

Fifteen seasons, two Super Bowl appearances, four MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowls, and gobs of passing records later and the Peyton Manning era is officially over in Indianapolis. The moment hardly seems real. We’ve gotten so used to Manning peering through that blue facemask with the horseshoes on each side of his helmet that it’s hard to imagine him in any other uniform. I kind of figured he would just go on playing forever, barking out signals for the Colts well into his 80s.

Nobody is at fault for this separation. This is life after all, where things ultimately come to an end. The Indianapolis Colts were around 45 years prior to Manning arriving in 1998 and they’ll be around long after he’s gone, too. Even for as much as he’s meant to the organization, Manning will inevitability be just one key figure in an organization that also had the pleasure of watching Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, and John Mackey don its uniform. The Colts are a rebuilding team now and rebuilding teams don’t pay $28 million roster bonuses to 35-year-old quarterbacks coming off multiple neck surgeries. Their horrific 2011 season has given them a chance to draft the next Peyton Manning and they can’t forgo that opportunity because they’re sentimentally tied to one of the greatest players their organization has ever seen. It’s time to move on.

Manning will move on as well. As a football fan it’s exciting to listen to him talk about continuing his career, barring his health is okay, of course. We’ve never been treated to Peyton Manning the free agent and while he isn’t 26 anymore, it’s fun to read speculation about the Jets, Dolphins, and Chiefs being interested in his services. The storylines will be endless, especially if he winds up in New York with his brother.

Many people assume that he’s damaged goods and maybe he is. Maybe he’ll never be able to throw a pass longer than 15 yards and maybe he’ll be a disaster next year. Maybe he should hang ‘em up so that he doesn’t risk more damage to his health.

But what if he can still play? Can you imagine what he’d do for a team like the Jets, a team that has been starved for good quarterback play since Rex Ryan became their head coach in 2009? He may never be the Peyton of old but he doesn’t have to be in order to win another Super Bowl. The 1997 and 1998 Denver Broncos were Terrell Davis’ teams – not John Elway’s. But because Elway knew how to take a step back, the Broncos were very successful with him under center.

Or maybe he won’t have an Elway-like finish to his career. So be it. Manning will still go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game and people will remember him in Indy blue and white. But thanks to his decision to keep playing, football fans will be treated to a “bonus round” of sorts. It certainly won’t be the same as watching him orchestrate the Colts’ offense while dissecting defenses like a surgeon, but it’ll be something new and fresh.

The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis is over and sooner rather than later, the Peyton Manning NFL era will have concluded as well. But for now, I’m going to enjoy watching that jittery-footed Peyton give it one more shot in another team’s uniform.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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