They may not be Colts, but memories of when they were are still fresh.
Indiana fans don’t have their hometown team fighting for a Super Bowl berth. With Arizona and Denver, though, it is easy to find a familiar face.
In Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, hometown heroes are readily available.
Come on, this is the Super Bowl matchup waiting to happen. And there is enough local drama lurking to give it extra pizazz.
Three weeks ago, Manning looked like he might have thrown his last NFL pass. Relegated to a backup role after battling through injuries, he lost his starting job to Brock Osweiler.
It all seemed so unfitting for one of the NFL’s all-time greats.
In a show of respect as much as faith, Manning got the start playoff Sunday and led yet another fourth-quarter, game-winning drive in a 23-16 win against Pittsburgh.
The win was something Colts fans are used to seeing from Manning. It was No. 18’s 45th fourth-quarter comeback win.
This one came with a twist, though. Long criticized for never winning a playoff game in cold weather (below 40 degrees), Manning finally shook off that demon, as well.
Now, he gets a chance for more payback. The Broncos host nemesis Tom Brady and New England Sunday.
A win puts Manning — a player who many thought would never throw again after a 2011 neck injury that led to his release by the Colts — in the Super Bowl.
On the other side may be Arians, one of the hottest coaches in the NFL.
The Colts’ offensive coordinator in 2012, Arians was promoted to interim head coach after Chuck Pagano’s diagnosis with cancer.
The result was spectacular. Arians’ was 9-3 for the remainder of the season and named NFL Coach of the Year as Indianapolis advanced to the AFC playoffs.
With Pagano’s return after successful treatment, Arians took the head coaching job for the Cardinals. Success followed, including the 2014 NFL Coach of the Year and this season’s rise to Sunday’s NFC Championship at Carolina.
It is a long-awaited payoff for the 62-year-old Arians, who has labored throughout the college and pro ranks.
Manning and Arians were with the Colts at different times, but they each left an impression on Indianapolis fans.
Manning is simply the consummate pro, an ambassador of the game on and off the field, as we will as a prodigious passer. When he does retire — and that may come with a Super Bowl win — he will go down as perhaps the greatest passer ever.
His 58 game-winning drives are the stuff of legends. Colts fans know — 47 of them occurred in Manning’s 13 seasons here.
While Arians time here was brief, he quickly made his mark with a gun-slinging game plan.
“When aggressiveness works, Arians is lauded,” wrote NFL.com writer Kevin Patra after the Cards’ dramatic overtime win against Green Bay Saturday. “When it doesn’t he’s loudly critiqued. But he won’t change. If he goes down, he’ll go down swinging. It’s what makes him great.”
That is what endeared Indianapolis fans to Arians during his relief stint.
Certainly, there is an irony here. The quarterback and the coach who the Colts let go may face off in the Super Bowl. It is easy to get into a game of “what if,” especially with Indy’s football franchise now sputtering.
Don’t give into that temptation.
Instead, celebrate that Manning and Arians, two great gentlemen of the game who graced us with their talents, are now one step away from the Super Bowl.
We may not be going to Super Bowl, but we may know someone who is.