Last season I was dismayed by the collapse of the Indianapolis Colts. I never could quite grasp how a sports “team” could go from championship performance to league’s worst based on the absence of a single player. How any professional team could rely solely on any one player defies anything any professional would do.
After Peyton Manning’s neck surgery sidelined him, the Colts plunged to depths of football ineptitude that only the Detroit Lions could claim. Since the time Manning arrived, the team stood on his shoulders, to the point that no one on the team believed there was any foundation absent his presence. Even though the remainder of the team succeeded in their position, they were so overshadowed by the attention on Manning they never recognized their own contributions to the team.
At the end of the season, when the team decided to cut their financial obligations and release Manning, he made a quick transition to Denver. There is a long history between Denver and Indianapolis. The Denver great John Elway, refused to play for the Colts (while they were still in Baltimore) when they drafted him as the #1 pick because he viewed them as a hopeless team. Eventually a deal was secured that sent Elway to Denver where he brought the team to prominence during his years of play.
Prior to Manning’s arrival in Denver, the team spent several successful years, but failed to live up to fans’ (or management’s) expectations. In the first season with Manning as quarterback, the team secured the division championship four weeks prior to the end of the season. They reached, at least in regular season, the rank expected of the collective talent.
A year removed from him, Manning’s former team, the Colts, will also make the playoffs, emerging from the league basement.
The events of this season say much for both teams and Manning himself.
Manning has again proven himself to be one of the most competitive and resilient players in football history. An injury and treatment that would have otherwise sidelined another player acted only as an interruption to his career.
It is no wonder, then, that the Colts struggled without his self-confidence as a guiding force. The team, recognizing that he was truly gone, managed to recognize the strength within themselves. They rallied around a new, highly talented rookie quarterback and believed they could win. They did not win at the level they had in their prime when they dominated the conference, but they did win enough.
The Broncos responded with an extra bit of pep and confidence, following the character of their new quarterback. They reached the playoffs as conference champions and somewhat satisfied their fans expectations.
Weeks remain in the season and the playoffs are far removed, but the initial results show much about the individual impact on a team. The faith in a player, as much as the player’s performance, shifted the psychology of the teams involved. One team clung while another grasped and the results were telling.