You don't have to like Indy to admire Manning

February 01, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

If you're one of these people who still goes on and on about how much you hate the Indianapolis Colts, you might as well skip this column.

If your mind still runs a continuous loop of old resentments that involve Bob Irsay and Mayflower moving vans and horseshoes in the Hoosier Dome, go read about the Terps or check out the tire ads.

I say this because with Indy set to face the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl on Sunday, I'm sensing a definite softening of attitude in this town toward the Colts.

And you can explain why it's happening in two words: Peyton Manning.

Look, I don't care whether you root for the Colts or not this Sunday.

Personally, I'm pulling for New Orleans, because with all that city has been through since Hurricane Katrina, I want to see its people sing and dance and feel good about themselves.

But a part of me - a large part - will be cheering for Manning, too. And I don't think I'll be the only one around here doing that, either.

How can you not like watching the Colts' All-World quarterback?

For starters, he's the All-American boy. He's Huck Finn in cleats. He's Richie Cunningham from "Happy Days" with a killer passer rating.

In Manning, we're watching a special football player, a once-in-a-generation athlete. And everyone in the NFL knows it.

Wasn't it the same way when Muhammad Ali was in his prime? When Michael Jordan was at the top of his game?

When Tiger Woods was winning all those majors instead of ducking 3-irons and checking into sex rehab?

Of those three, maybe Jordan offers the closest parallel to Manning.

Me, I was the biggest Michael Jordan fan around. I went out of my way to watch him every chance I could. Because I knew I was watching the best to ever play the game.

On any given night, he would do something to amaze you: hit a game-winning jumper from the scorer's table or break out a cross-over dribble that would paralyze a defender or float through the air and throw a crazy dunk down on some poor fool who saw his life flash in front of him.

Game in and game out, Jordan would do something that would make 19,000 people in an arena jump to their feet like a startled school of fish and howl madly into the night.

Michael Jordan made everyone else on the court look two steps slower and a foot shorter and a whole lot dumber in their basketball IQ.

That's basically what Peyton Manning does on the football field.

He wins with his arm and his brain. He dissects defenses better than anyone. He rifles passes into impossibly tight windows, the coverage be damned.

When the Colts were asked how they managed to keep their composure in the AFC championship game when the New York Jets took the early lead and had all that momentum, to a man, they gave the same answer: "We knew we had Peyton."

Here's the other thing Manning does that Jordan did: He makes everyone around him play better.

Jordan made average players such as Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright and John Paxson shine and willed them to win NBA championships.

Manning is no less able to lift and inspire. Look what happened this season.

The Colts cut aging Marvin Harrison, their all-time leading receiver. Then Anthony Gonzalez, their first-round draft choice in 2007 and the guy tapped to replace Harrison, blows out his knee in the first game and is lost for the season.

Do the Colts get all rattled and weepy? Hardly. The guy throwing the ball is still No. 18.

So they plug young wide-outs Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie into the lineup and don't miss a beat. Manning quickly makes them look like stars and they mesh beautifully with Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne and terrific tight end Dallas Clark and the team keeps winning and knowing it's going to the Super Bowl.

In that 30-17 win over the Jets for the AFC championship, Garcon catches 11 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown and Collie catches seven passes for 123 yards and a TD.

You don't think those two know how lucky they are to be on Manning's team? They should name their first-born after this guy - boy or girl.

Oh, yeah, and Manning picks up a record fourth MVP award after passing for a career-high .686 completion percentage, 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns.

So to all you Indy haters out there, I say this: Keep on hating if you must, if all the old scars haven't healed.

But do yourself a favor: Keep an eye on No. 18 in the Colts jersey when he takes the field Sunday in Miami.

They'll be talking about this guy for many years to come.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.


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