Any season ticket holder will tell you: When former Colts players return to Indianapolis with another team, they get booed by fans.
But when former quarterback Peyton Manning takes the field Sunday, local fans say they don’t expect him to get the same treatment.
Manning was the face of the Colts for 14 years. Fans see him as a beloved player, a person of integrity and strong work ethic, who led the football team to success and was an asset to Indianapolis, Phil Powell of Greenwood said. And he was friendly, Powell said. When he was injured in 2011 and unable to play, Manning mingled with tailgating fans, including Powell’s group of friends.
When the Colts let Manning go, the move was abrupt, and fans didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, 26-year season ticket holder Ray Bridges said.
“There will never be another first time he’ll be back,” he said. “The fans here love Peyton. They always will.”
Manning is returning to Indianapolis to play a game for the first time since he left two seasons ago and signed with the Denver Broncos.
The game is an important one to Colts fans, in part because of the tribute the team has planned for Manning’s return. Fans also are eager to see the quarterback play in a game against the Colts’ young star, quarterback Andrew Luck, Powell said.
“It’s just a special day to welcome back an individual who has meant so much to the city of Indianapolis,” Powell said.
On Sunday, Bridges will paint the word “Colts” across his forehead and blue horseshoes on his cheeks, as he does for every Colts game. He’ll bring his euphonium, which is the horn he plays from the stands and that has earned him the nickname “Tuba Guy” among Colts players and other fans.
But Bridges and his wife, Diane, who live south of Indianapolis, will tie on their black and blue Dracula-style capes, which they save for special games, such as the Super Bowl. They’ll also skip tailgating and get into the stadium as soon as it opens, two hours before the game, in hopes that they’ll catch a glimpse of Manning warming up.
Before Manning’s years with the Colts, before he was a key part of making the Colts a winning team and before the team’s 2006 Super Bowl win, extra tickets were hard to give away, Garth Wright of Greenwood said. Manning changed that, Wright said.
He sold the family’s four tickets to the game for about $425 apiece, or for about three times their face value, he said. That’s the most he’s ever gotten paid for tickets, a reflection of fans’ eagerness to watch Manning play again, he said.
“Obviously, as fans of the Colts during the whole Peyton era, he was the man. He was our guy,” Bridges said. “Then when everything happened, it happened so quickly and abruptly there wasn’t true closure for the fans.
“He’s just the best there’s ever been, and we cut him.”