Wilson's Word: Expect to see Peyton again

The Colts celebrated an unforgettable AFC playoff victory over Peyton Manning Sunday in Denver, but we probably haven't seen the last of the five-time NFL MVP quarterback.

In another undeniably ironic twist to the NFL’s unpredictable playoff storyline, the Indianapolis Colts closed the book on quarterback Peyton Manning for this season.

But not his career.

Yeah, just my opinion. Call it an educated guess.

After covering him for 14 years here in Indianapolis, I have a hard time believing he will accept the last chapter of his eventual Hall of Fame career being a bitter home playoff loss to the franchise he put on the NFL map.

He’ll heal up, probably go hunting somewhere when that quad isn’t an issue, maybe get some rest and relaxation someplace warm. And when his head has cleared, his body is healthy, Manning won’t be thinking about retirement. He’s too much of a competitor, even with his 39th birthday approaching in March.

I’ve spoken to too many players after their careers are finished. Nothing compares to playing on that field on Sunday. It’s what drives a player every day. It’s an adrenaline rush they never want to end. And Manning was playing well before suffering his injury in December.

Seriously, what’s a torn quad considering what this man has already endured? Most NFL players would have called it a career after one or two neck procedures. He had four. The guy was going to do everything he could to play again. And he did.

Some Colts fans will be quick to say they’ve moved on from Manning. They did about three years ago when he was released and signed with Denver. I get that.

But those same people have to admit that’s what made Sunday so utterly unforgettable. The touchdown-underdog Colts defeated Manning and the Broncos 24-13 in an AFC Divisional playoff upset. And on the road, no less, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

It doesn’t matter if Manning was hurt. The playoffs are about winning, no matter how it happens. And the Colts did it. After a rocky regular season with enough troublesome losses to cast doubt on the playoff possibilities, the Colts have managed to play their best two games of the season.

It’s the kind of stuff that can’t be scripted. You don’t expect it. Perhaps you hope for it, you’re cheering your heart out as a fan, but Colts fans know what Manning is about. They cheered him for too many years. Their hearts broke when he was released. Some of those hearts have yet to mend, even now. I hear it from fans all the time.

And that’s why beating him will go down as one of this franchise’s greatest playoff victories.

That might seem like an overstatement. Yeah, it’s all about winning Super Bowls. And while the Colts have taken the next step to get an AFC Championship Game at New England on Sunday, I want to remember a little longer what has transpired before we get caught up in the hype of this team taking on Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and those pain-in-the-butt Patriots.

I was there when Manning lifted that Vince Lombardi Trophy in the rain at Miami. And as much as that Super Bowl XLI victory will be etched in our minds forever, you remember even more the comeback victory over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 21, 2007, at the RCA Dome.

My seat was shaking high overhead in the RCA Dome that night. No need to look up statistics. The eye test was enough. That second half was the best Manning has played in a playoff game in his career, in my opinion.

This wasn’t the guy who has had nine one-and-done playoff exits. This was the guy who has won five NFL MVPs. It all came together for two magical quarters of football.

The Colts rallied from an 18-point, second-quarter deficit to finally exorcise their Patriots demons. I’ve always said the ultimate would be the Colts winning a playoff game in January at New England. The current Colts will get that shot for a second consecutive postseason. But the way Manning and the previous Colts beat the Patriots was as memorable as any game ever witnessed.

Fast forward to Sunday night, and to be honest, I didn’t want it to end. I was the last to leave the press box in Denver. After tapping keys on stories and editing videos, I decided to save more work for the hotel because the clock was closing in on midnight.

While walking out, I started thinking about the highs and lows of covering this team for 16 years, specifically, where this Colts win over the Broncos ranked among the highs. And Sunday’s game was just behind that AFC title game conquest.

If the Colts could knock off the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, perhaps the chronicles of history will lump such an accomplishment in with beating Manning in Denver. We’ll debate which was more important, probably leaning toward the latter upset because it decided a Super Bowl berth.

But if the Colts don’t win on Sunday, we’ll say without hesitation that beating Manning in Denver was the highlight of this season. And we’ll talk about it for years to come, regardless of the next game’s result.

So many times during the Manning Era in Indy, the wins were in such abundance that they kind of ended up being a blur, kind of bunched together as expected outcomes. It took a lot to impress us, did it not? Because Manning and the Colts set the bar so high.

If we’re fortunate, and this is a selfish wish, when the Broncos visit Lucas Oil Stadium next regular season, I’m hoping we’ll see Manning again. I’m counting on it.

Because truly memorable games are too few and far between.

We never forget them. We love them.

Walking out of that stadium, another epiphany was unmistakable.

We as NFL fans, and Peyton Manning included, live for them.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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