INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts unveiled a statue of Peyton Manning on a plaza outside Lucas Oil Stadium in a ceremony attended by hundreds of fans and featuring remarks from Hall of Famers coach Tony Dungy and executive Bill Polian, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The five-time NFL MVP concluded the event Saturday by proclaiming “I will always be a Colt” and throwing autographed footballs into the crowd.
The bronze likeness features Manning in his Colts uniform preparing to throw a pass.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels also spoke, as did longtime Colts center Jeff Saturday. Even David Letterman made a surprise appearance in what Manning informally dubbed an all-Indiana event – with the exception of Goodell.
“We all salute Peyton for being a tremendous ambassador for his community, our league and our game,” Goodell posted on Twitter after the ceremony. Goodell is not planning to attend today's game.
Manning will be honored again today with his induction into the team's Ring of Honor. He also will become the first player from the franchise's Indianapolis era to have his jersey retired.
Polian remembers walking into the RCA Dome for Manning's home debut in 1998, peering into the stands and seeing all those Dan Marino jerseys.
When he wanted an explanation, Polian was told Indiana's football fans started following the Dolphins when former Purdue quarterback Bob Griese was winning Super Bowls and never switched their allegiance.
Within a few short years, Manning and his teammates had converted them.
Suddenly, the stadium was selling out so often the organization needed a season-ticket waiting list. And so many fans dressed in royal blue and white, many bearing the familiar No. 18, that television analyst John Madden often dubbed Indy as the home to the most jerseys in any NFL stadium.
“He put the sheen on the horseshoe, and the horseshoe, because of him and Jim Irsay and Tony (Dungy), really means something now,” Polian said. “He had a pretty special antenna and connection with fans.”
By almost any measure, Manning had one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
He started 227 consecutive games, including the playoffs, and finished as the league's career leader in yards passing (71,940) and touchdowns (539). His 6,125 completions and 9,380 attempts are second all-time.
He holds records for most TD passes in a season (55), most yards passing in a season (5,477), most 300-yard games (93), most games with a perfect passer rating (five), most 4,000-yard seasons (14), most come-from behind wins (45), even most interceptions by a rookie (28). His 14 Pro Bowl appearances are tied for the most ever.
His trophy case includes a record five NFL MVP awards and two Super Bowl rings.
Of course, Manning did more than win on the field: He helped this basketball-crazed state and a city known far and wide for the Indianapolis 500 embrace football.
“Inside the stadium in those early days, it was hit or miss whether or not the other team was going to have as many fans as you did,” said former Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell, a longtime season-ticket holder who starts a new job with the Colts on Monday. “Two, maybe three years in, inside the stadium, outside the stadium at tailgate areas, that was the moment I think the Colts truly became solidified as Indianapolis' team and not just the team that came from Baltimore.
“He was not only an ambassador for the team and the NFL, he was an ambassador for the city.”