Peyton Manning has had many significant days in Indianapolis. Like the AFC Championship Game in 2006 vs. the New England Patriots, or his first playoff win in 2004 vs. the Denver Broncos. There was no need to say Manning is now, after all this time, enshrined into the history of Indianapolis. That already happened. Erecting a statue in front of Lucas Oil, the stadium he’s largely responsible for, was just a formality.
This was the man who won a Super Bowl for the Colts. He transformed the city of Indianapolis. There’s the Peyback Foundation, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. He’s done it all and he seemingly gave it all to the city that embraced him for 18 seasons—and, face it, probably forever.
The celebration saw fans packed together from the front of Lucas Oil to across the street at the convention center. And these weren’t necessarily Colts fans; they were Peyton Manning fans.
Pockets of people were talking about what’s next for Manning. Some wondered aloud if he’s ever going to return home to coach the Colts.
Others debated what number 18’s best game was as a Colt. (The clear answer seemed to be his 2003 comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.)
There were parents explaining to their kids the importance of Manning because they’re too young to even remember a time when he wore a horseshoe on his helmet.
“This is as close as we can get,” one mom was telling her kids. “If we had gotten here earlier…”
And then Manning walked out towards the podium, just a couple minutes behind schedule, and the cheering was as expected. Even a police dog started barking.
One of the surprise guests invited to shower their praise on Manning was former late-night TV host and Indianapolis native David Letterman. Of course, he had more to say than everyone else. Letterman remarked how Indianapolis used to be “like a minimum security prison with a race track.”
He also took a good-humored jab at Manning’s brother and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, saying the two have won the same number of games this season.
Some of Letterman’s jokes flopped (like referring to Manning as a statue in the pocket), but he managed to arouse universal support by capturing the essence of Manning’s importance in Indianapolis.
“This man has changed the skyline in this city,” he said.
Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett was also on hand, declaring it Peyton Manning Weekend in Indianapolis.
“Peyton Manning turned Indy into a city of champions,” said Hogsett.
Former governor Mitch Daniels also spoke on Manning.
“Statues of southerners have had a tough season this year,” said Daniels, who governed the state from 2005-13. “I think we can predict no one is ever gonna want to take this one down.”
Then there was former Colts center Jeff Saturday, who said he thought the statue should have at least have had his butt in it.
And there were more. Former Colts general manager Bill Polian told the famous story of Manning telling him before the 1998 NFL draft that he’d win the franchise a championship if they picked him; and if not, he would kick their ass.
Those who knew him well talked about a strong work ethic and leadership skills. Everyone commended him for the change he enacted in Indianapolis.
Though unnoticed on this Saturday, there remains a cloud over Manning’s legacy. According to a sworn testimony published in the New York Daily News, Manning “forcefully maneuvered his naked testicles and rectum directly” onto the face of Dr. Jamie Naughbright, former director of health and wellness at the University of Tennessee. The year was 1996, and Manning, 19, was the star quarterback for the Volunteers.
Manning was not charged as a result (there was also a secret incident in 1994). The two eventually moved on from the university and signed a non-disclosure agreement.
The celebration of Manning’s statue ended with remarks from the man himself. After walking over to the statue with his kids, he said all the predictable things, thanking the city, the fans, for the support over the years.
“I’m not on social media,” said Manning, “but if I was, I would use the hashtag ‘thank you Indianapolis.’”
Then he turned to Polian, the man ultimately responsible for letting Manning change an entire city—and state.
“Thank you for taking a chance on me,” he said, voice shaking as he teared up.