If Peyton Manning has the kind of success in Denver people are starting to predict, it will leave a shadow looming over the Circle City that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will be unable to outrun or outlive.
If Manning even gets the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, Irsay will be forever labeled as the guy who let Manning get away. Now that Denver seems poised to pay Manning $96 million for a five-year deal, the critics have already started to howl about the valuable player Irsay let walk.
There’s a massive number of Colts fans, their emotions simmering into a slow, increasingly vicious boil, ready to blow up if Manning shows he’s back to his old on-the-field self.
If Manning wins the Super Bowl—and wins MVP honors along with the Lombardi Trophy—Katy bar the door.
Irsay’s legacy will never recover from Manning riding in the lead float down Denver’s Main Street.
And I’m going to amend something I’ve said and written earlier. If Manning pilots another team to Super Bowl glory, I’m not even sure it matters how well Andrew Luck does here. Short of establishing a post-Manning dynasty, Irsay will never be forgiven. The barrage of ill will Irsay will endure here will be merciless.
You’ll notice that Luck’s pro day this Thursday has scarcely been covered by local media to this point.
Manning so far has overshadowed Indianapolis’ first—and glorious—Super Bowl, IU’s re-emergence and NCAA tournament run and the Colts own rebuilding efforts.
The only thing mad about this March is the attention on Manning. He’s one of the world’s very few athletes who could command as much or more attention as two of North America’s biggest sporting events.
Just wait until Manning has his first press conference in Denver, first puts on the Broncos jersey, shows up for his first practice, lines up under center for the first game.
NFL season ticket holders have long complained about being forced to buy tickets for pre-season games alongside their regular season package. There will be no problem this year in Denver selling those practice game tickets for well over face value.
NFL insiders are already predicting Manning’s new Broncos jersey could be the best-selling replica of all time for a single season. There’s no doubt it will surpass the sales of Tim Tebow’s for the NFL’s top spot well before training camp starts in August.
And just when Irsay and the rest of the Horseshoe Kingdom think they can’t take another minute of Manning-mania, the barrage of new television commercials will start rolling in.
Manning was sidelined by many of his corporate partners after it was announced he would be lost for the entire 2011 season. But already this year, Manning sponsors such as DirecTV, Gatorade and Sony appear eager to put Manning front and center in new ad campaigns.
And after all that could come the worst specter of all to haunt the vast crevasses of Irsay's over-active mind. If Manning succeeds in Denver, will Irsay be seen as the man who held No. 18 back all these years from reaching his full potential?
The notion of having the greatest signal caller of all time on your roster for 13 seasons and only winning one championship is an ugly one indeed. But uglier still is the idea that with his hires and direction, Irsay himself was the one responsible for keeping a lid on the bright light of Manning's star.
The long shadow of Manning is about to get a lot longer.
And for Colts fans, and especially for Irsay, it could get much darker.