Irsay wasn’t about to show up without gifts.
Lucas Oil Stadium will soon have a Manning statue, Irsay announced. Artist renderings showed a large likeness of Manning ready to throw, a football cocked in his right arm.
No Colts player, Irsay also declared, will ever wear Manning’s No. 18 jersey again.
And, fittingly, these gifts were bestowed on the 18th of March.
“I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am by that,” Manning said, in his opening remarks. “Two pieces of news, I really don’t know what to say.”
Irsay spoke of how they “temporarily” went different directions yet enjoyed success. Manning retired two weeks ago from the Denver Broncos, with whom he won his second Super Bowl ring last month — the first with the Colts in 2007. After 14 years in Indy, he finished his career with four more in the Mile High City.
But this day, the five-time NFL MVP and all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and wins wore a blue Colts horseshoe pin on his right lapel.
“I must say I think I speak for all Colt fans where we kind of feel like he’s ours,” Irsay said.
“It was my honor and privilege to play for this organization for 14 years,” Manning said. “This is the team I wanted to play for. I was glad that you all drafted me, and I’ll always be a Colt.”
Manning and Irsay embraced, shook hands and reveled in vivid detail about a history shared since 1998, when the quarterback was selected No. 1 overall in the draft. That’s when the Indianapolis landscape began to seriously change from a basketball and racing town into an NFL city.
“I just can’t say enough for what he has meant to this franchise, to this city and state,” Irsay said. “You just simply run out of words thinking about how much No. 18 means to us.”
They met in the spring of 1998 at the Surf Club in Miami Beach. While their relationship became strained before Irsay released Manning in March of 2012, those hard feelings are obviously of a past they don’t dwell upon.
Before they exited, they shook hands and embraced again, Manning repeating an appreciative, “Awesome, awesome,” and expressing his gratitude.
Irsay said of the Manning statue, “It will be a destination spot for all of our fans, just like Jim Morrison’s grave, even though it’s not a grave, Peyton. It will be a destination for people to leave cans of Budweiser or notes for you, so we’ll collect those and get them to you as the years pass.”
Then Irsay added, “It’s not too often you build statues of people, particularly in their lifetime.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.