Most everyone knew it was coming, but the headline shocked people across Indiana to the core: "Colts release Peyton Manning."
It was one of those punch-in-the-gut moments. The quarterback from Tennessee who had taken Indianapolis from being a mostly forgettable NFL franchise to becoming the biggest sports figure in the state’s history – Larry Bird, Bob Knight and Oscar Robertson included – suddenly was gone.
Not many blamed Colts owner Jim Ersay, a billionaire who could buy anything he wanted except a guarantee that Manning, who sat out the 2011 season with a serious neck injury, would someday return to championship form. The choice was one only the team’s owner could make -- pay Manning his $28 million bonus as stipulated in his contract or cut him.
The message to Manning was straightforward and businesslike: Find a new place to play. It wasn’t a bitter separation, just heartbreaking.
Manning’s future, assuming he had one, was uncertain. Returning to Florida where he owned a home, he told a group of reporters: “I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works.” For one of the few times in his life, Manning seemed stumped.
Flash forward about a year and a half. Manning is now wearing a blue and orange Denver Broncos uniform. He resembles anything but a hobbling former NFL star. Last weekend, the Broncos had just decimated Philadelphia in a performance that had some wondering if the 37-year-old Manning had found the fountain of youth on the grounds of his Sunshine State retreat.
Against the Eagles, Manning completed 28 of 34 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Through Denver’s first four games – all wins -- he has aired out 16 touchdown passes yet not thrown a single interception. His passer rating stood at 138.0, which is not perfect but begs the question, “Is perfection achievable?”