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Many fans still backing Manning

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Absence apparently makes the heart grow fonder.

At least that seems to be the consensus when it comes to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, whose Rocky Mountain stardom received a 14-year running start in Indianapolis.

Manning and the 52 orange-jerseyed teammates joining him Sunday evening for Super Bowl XLVIII will receive plenty of support from those in the QB’s old stomping grounds.

From 1998 to 2011, Manning placed his stamp on a community the way few professional athletes can or ever have.

Not only did he pass for in excess of 31 miles (54,828 yards) and 399 touchdowns during his time here, Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to Super

Bowl appearances in 2006 (a win) and 2009 (a loss).

Now add the Indianapolis children’s hospital that bears his name and the hundreds of parents who felt compelled to name their newborn son or daughter Peyton and, well, you get the point.

It’s why Greenwood resident Kellea Wright will be wearing her orange No. 18 jersey by the time Sunday’s 6:25 p.m. kickoff comes around.

“I’ve always been a Peyton fan,” Wright said. “At first I was upset because he left, but he made the decision that was best for his career, and we made the best decision for our team. I’m still his biggest fan.”

Ray and Diane Bridges were diehard Colts’ backers long before Manning’s arrival. The Bridgeses have attended every home game since the 1987 season after moving to Indy’s southside from northeast Ohio.

“We’re rooting for Denver. Normally we root for the AFC and, obviously, this time because of Peyton,” Diane said. “If he’s not playing the Colts, I’m 100 percent for Peyton. It’s easy to do because he did a lot for football in this state and continues to do good things off the field, too.”

Greenwood resident Simon Morse has been a Colts season-ticket holder since 1988. While Morse’s 15-yard line view from the southeastern corner of Lucas Oil Stadium afforded him a relatively close look at Manning’s talents, what the quarterback accomplishes away from football is every bit as impressive.

“I’m pulling for Denver because of Manning, though I probably would be rooting for them, anyway. Just the history they have,” Morse said. “I pull for Peyton now for the same reasons I pulled for him while he was here — his attitude, his ability and his leadership. Just an all-around nice guy from what I can tell.

“The other things are his philanthropic endeavors. His winning ways on the field allows him to be philanthropic.”

Center Grove High School football coach Eric Moore prides himself a New England Patriots fan.

No reading between the lines necessary. Moore is picking Seattle.

“Seattle has a great running back in (Marshawn) Lynch and a great lockup corner (Richard Sherman). Seattle’s defense will get to No. 18,” Moore said. “Peyton left Indy with about 100 million dollars, and the Colts got to watch him date seven other cities. Go, Seahawks!”

Moore’s quarterback the past two seasons, senior Luke Calvert, is confident Manning is on the verge of his second ring.

“The Broncos will win the Super Bowl because of the greatest quarterback in the league in Peyton Manning,” Calvert said. “He has weapons like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Seattle’s defense is good, but not good enough.”

Franklin College football coach Mike Leonard expects Denver will win by lopsided proportions — “42-17”, he said. He appreciates the impact Manning has had growing the sport in what used to be perceived as a basketball state.

“I can only imagine the impact of Peyton Manning’s arrival to Indianapolis back in 1998. (It) has done nothing but help football in Indiana,” Leonard said. “More than anything else, the way that he led the Colts in his positive and winning ways was a fantastic model to every coach and player in this state. We all loved watching him play as a Colt and still admire him as a Bronco. But the impact he showed on how to give back to the community was equally if not even more impressive.

“His (PeyBack) games at the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium allowed so many high school players to enjoy playing in those huge stadiums. And obviously Peyton’s Children Hospital and all of his visits to hurting kids and families showed his real character. He genuinely cares about people.”

At least one local connection to the Broncos is about genetics as much as emotion.

Carol Edwards and her husband, John, moved to Greenwood in 1978, the same year Denver’s offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, happened to be born.

Gase, 34, is widely considered one of the NFL’s bright, young head coaches in waiting. He is also Carol Edwards’ cousin.

“We are definitely for Denver. Our Facebook page is full of what Denver is doing and what Adam is doing,” she said. “We’re always following Peyton, too, because he is such a role model for the kids. I think he works incredibly hard with what he does and doesn’t pass off his responsibilities to someone else.”

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