The long, loud and moving ovation accorded Peyton Manning by the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium this month should have come as no surprise, even though the renowned Denver Broncos quarterback was on enemy turf about to take on the hometown team, the Indianapolis Colts.
Return visits by former hometown heroes are not always marked by such scenes. Some all-star players who have donned uniforms different from the ones they wore at the outset of their professional careers have been booed and, regardless of the circumstances of their departures, have been treated as traitors.
Not this player. ... not these fans.
Even though he is a Bronco, a good part of Manning still belongs to Indianapolis. Many of the signs hoisted by the crowd for the television cameras made exactly that point.
But the ovation was not merely because of his achievements on the football field or even the success he helped bring to the Indianapolis franchise during his years here. It was a success that was capped off by a Super Bowl crown. It wasn’t even because he is an extremely likable person.
All those were estimable qualities, but it is fair to say the crowd was expressing appreciation for a good man. In his tenure at Indianapolis, Manning became known almost as much for the deeds he did away from the stadium as those he performed on the field.
He lent his name and his presence to numerous charitable causes in and around Indianapolis. He shared his wealth with nonprofit institutions.
Central Indiana has seen that side of the man a number of times as he often appears at special fundraising events or simply acts as a role model for young children.
It can be argued that he restored dignity to professional sports franchises in Indianapolis. Contrast the image he cast with those of other Indy pro athletes at the time who behaved as common criminals. Remember the Indiana Pacers and the brawl in Detroit or the early-morning gunfight in a nightclub parking lot that featured Pacers players.
Some observers suggest Manning brought a measure of class to his former team, his former fans and his former city. The crowd at that Sunday night game showed they’re still his fans, and they also showed a lot of class of their own.