Emotions Are Torn, But the Jersey Is Intact
I came to love the game through Peyton Manning, but I know who I’ll be rooting for when he returns to Indy on Sunday night
Editor’s Note: Angie Six is a writer, mother, blogger and Indianapolis Colts fan living in central Indiana. The MMQB asked her to speak for the fans of Indiana as they prepare for quarterback Peyton Manning’s visit Sunday with his new team, the Denver Broncos.
By Angie Six
INDIANAPOLIS — Carefully tucked away on the top shelf of my bedroom closet, my Peyton Manning Colts jersey keeps company with my wedding dress. Some might find it odd that a sports jersey many fans had tossed in the Goodwill pile long ago would instead find a place next to a timeless memento. It makes perfect sense to me, though. The blue number 18 jersey is a keepsake of how I fell in love with football, in the same way the dress is a keepsake from the day I declared my love for my husband.
I was 9 years old when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. I couldn’t comprehend what a big deal it was, couldn’t fathom what it would mean to lose anything in sports that could cause so much heartache. Sports and my family didn’t mix; we barely played any and we watched them even less.
In college I fell in love with a sports fan, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Love will make you do crazy things, like root for the Cleveland Indians and bang on the glass at hockey games. I still didn’t love sports, but I loved a boy, and that’s all it took. Shortly after I wore that wedding dress, we moved to Tennessee. It was 1997, we were in the middle of SEC country, and a kid named Peyton Manning was king.
I became smitten with Peyton that year, a feeling that only intensified when the Colts chose him as their number one pick in the draft. I was on the brink of becoming a football fan, and he led the way. It was the perfect storm: I was starting to enjoy football, but I needed a team, and I needed a player I could feel good rooting for. Peyton and the Colts were the answer. There was something about the guy I couldn’t resist. His dorkiness, his antics at the line of scrimmage, his work ethic, those commercials. I watched football just to watch him, and suddenly found myself caring about the rules, the players, and other teams. But it was mostly about Peyton.
I returned home to Indy a few years later, just in time for Peyton and the Colts to hit their stride. I was pregnant the year the Colts made their first Super Bowl run. I hiked my pregnant self to the nosebleed seats in the RCA Dome for the AFC Championship Game. Some babies get Beethoven in utero; mine got 55,000 sports fans yelling at Tom Brady. Earlier in the season I told my husband that if the Colts won the Super Bowl we would name the baby Peyton. He laughed and agreed, never thinking they would actually pull it off. Try as I might, I couldn’t persuade him to name the baby after Peyton. Instead he allowed me the next best thing. Our son, Eli, was born just as the Super Bowl champions returned to training camp.
I knew the Peyton Manning era would eventually come to an end, but I never imagined it would play out as it did. The 2011 season was painful, watching Peyton on the sidelines, sitting through loss after loss, reading between Irsay’s and Manning’s cryptic lines. I sat on the couch with my husband, wearing my Manning jersey, and cried as Peyton told us goodbye. I took the jersey off that night and haven’t worn it since.
These days I cheer for the Colts and the Broncos. The Colts are my team, but Peyton gave me football, and I never tire of watching his gift. Rooting for both teams has never been a problem … until now. This weekend Peyton returns to Indianapolis for the first time, and just beneath the excitement for a stellar matchup lies a tangled mess of bittersweet emotions.
Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz wrote a piece last week reporting on fans who sold their tickets because it would be “too emotional” to attend the game. I understand completely. I know in my heart that Irsay made the right move. I know that, considering the circumstances, things couldn’t have worked out better for everyone involved. I hate to use the term “blessed” to describe anything football-related, but it’s the best way to describe how I feel as a Colts fan. To go from the Peyton era to Andrew Luck? Unbelievable. No one else could’ve come to Indy and put my broken heart at ease. I love watching Andrew Luck play, and I’m filled with hope for the years we have ahead of us. But I still get emotional when I think about Peyton leaving, that we didn’t have a chance to let him finish a glorious career here.
Dammit, now I’m crying again.
Come Sunday, my loyalty is with the Colts. Peyton is the big brother who left for college when you were a kid. Now he’s back. You missed him like crazy, but you can’t wait to show him how big and strong you got while he was gone. You want to wrestle him, pin him to the ground, and then hug it out.
It’s impossible to go anywhere in Indianapolis this week without the game coming up in conversation. The general consensus around town is that we’re glad to see Peyton playing, happy to show him one last time what he means to this city. We’re looking forward to a classy tribute for a guy who never showed us anything less. We wish Irsay would step away from Twitter just this once. But more than anything, we want to see this young, dedicated, nose-to-the-grindstone team of ours win. Lucas Oil Stadium may be the house that Peyton built, but he doesn’t live here anymore.
I hope we see so many more games with Peyton and Andrew battling it out that it doesn’t even register as a storyline anymore. I would love to see Peyton win another Super Bowl; I just want to see us win more. Peyton made me a football fan, and for that he’ll always have a special place on my closet shelf and my heart. Special games call for special measures, though, and so this week I finally bought myself a new jersey. Turns out there was an empty space in my closet just waiting for Andrew Luck.
Angie Six’s blog, justlikethenumber.com, chronicles the things she holds dear: her kids Elena and Eli, her husband, Mike, the Colts and beer.