Peyton Manning was not the city’s first superstar.
That distinction belongs to Reggie Miller.
But Manning was its first supernova. Not because he’s arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, but because he did what no one else before him has ever done.
He brought a major sports championship to Indianapolis.
That in and of itself is enough for immortality in this town.
But Manning did much more than deliver a Super Bowl title. He lifted the city, and the state, in ways they had not been lifted before — and might never be lifted again.
Almost from the moment he stepped on the field, the Colts ceased being a joke. They became an elite franchise that would enjoy sustained success for nearly two decades.
Virtually overnight, Indianapolis became known for something other than the 500 and for having a really good NBA team. It became an NFL town, its quarterback a face — maybe the face — of the entire league.
Winning wasn’t a hope, a goal or even an expectation. It was a norm, a routine, a natural cycle akin to sunrise and sunset. For the better part of 14 years, that’s what the Colts did: Win.
Along the way, Manning set records. Lots of them. Passing yards, completions, touchdowns passes, winning percentages, MVP awards — Manning broke records for everything.
By the end of his first decade in the NFL, he already was an all-time great. By the time he called it a career, he was maybe the brightest star the league has ever seen.
He was unquestionably it’s most recognizable.
From commercials to “Saturday Night Live” appearances to prime time showdowns against Tom Brady, Manning’s visage is an indelible part of not only the NFL landscape, but of pop culture’s. You don’t have to watch, or even like, the NFL to know who Peyton Manning is.
You pretty much only need a TV.
And it all started here, long before he arrived in Denver and exited with a storybook Super Bowl finish.
Manning played 14 of his 18 seasons in Indianapolis. He won four of his five MVP awards here, won his first Super Bowl here and authored his Hall of Fame résumé here.
Here is where his legacy began and, for Colts fans and the franchise, really has no end.
Lucas Oil Stadium is one example. Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital is another.
But the most meaningful example is the tradition — or rather, the expectation — he left behind: Winning.
And not just winning, but being great in the process.
That was the Manning way, the Manning tradition, the Manning expectation.
Indianapolis did not have it before he got here. It has it now.
With no apologies to Denver, that’s the Peyton Manning legacy.