By Chase Howell
It is one of the most recognizable icons in all of sports, a pair of numerals whose symbolic nature is surpassed only by 23. The number immediately calls to mind precision, dedication, and prestige. It carries the weight of a record-breaking career, has proved doubters wrong, and is pictured only in a field of blue and white.
18 is not just a number, not just a jersey. 18 is even greater than just a man.
18 is Indianapolis.
With this kind of representation, how is it possible that one of the world’s legendary sports icons can be allowed to leave the city, let alone be forced out? Would Peyton Manning, after missing one season due to a series of regenerative neck surgeries, dare be clothed in red, green, or anything but royal blue next season?
As a fan, this is unthinkable. A legacy will risk crumbling upon exit, a betrayal reflecting that of Mayflower trucks making a 573-mile drive west under the cloak of night.
First, one must look at what Manning has done for Indianapolis to understand why he is more than just an athlete to Hoosiers. The fourteen-year veteran began his career with the then less-than adequate Colts and has helped to build the franchise into a perennial division champion.
Through his arm and his military-style play calling, Manning has connected with players like Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark to make touchdown tandems seem as commonplace as first-down gains.
The quarterback was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2009, along with Super Bowl XLI MVP after beating the Chicago Bears in the pouring rain. Even more impressively, Manning has lead a sub-par defensive team to win after win, relishing in his role as Father Time as the clock slips away before opponents can capitalize with the ball.
The two-minute drill has become less of a challenge for Colts fans and more of yet another opportunity to see Manning carry the team on his back. He has the ability to make decent receivers look like all-stars, with the definition of accuracy spawning from his left hand.
And that’s just for the Colts.
For the city, one of the most noticeable impacts Manning has made is in philanthropic acts. The Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, as it has been renamed, has been one of the many organizations to receive gifts from number 18. The PeyBack Foundation has been an exemplary organization started by an athlete to provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk.
Directly or indirectly, Manning has been an economic boost for the city. Many attribute Lucas Oil Stadium to the quarterback-led franchise’s success, boosting support and tax-dollars given to the project. The stadium has allowed Indy to host such events as the Final Four and the Super Bowl.
Sadly, the euphoria surrounding Manning and his relationship with the city has come crashing down to reality. Money has reared its ugly head, with the duel waging every second on ESPN. Obviously, the medical situation has caused a large amount of stress for both parties, as it should. If Manning can’t do what he does best, is 18 worth the big bucks?
This question, despite what Jim Irsay thinks, is not what should be asked.
The true question is, what is 18 worth to Indianapolis?