COMMENTARY | When the Indianapolis Colts opted to release Peyton Manning in early 2012, they did so with their eyes on a different prize: Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who was projected by even nominally knowledgeable prognosticators to be the #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft (and likely the best quarterback prospect since either Manning himself or Denver Broncos legend John Elway).
It was an unusually symmetrical transaction in the realm of the NFL: Manning had missed the entire 2011 season, leaving the Colts in disarray as they toiled to a 2-14 record and landed the first overall selection in the draft (in a pursuit that was either endearingly or embarrassingly known as "Suck for Luck").
The opportunity left Manning open to pursue free agency for the first time as a professional, and he wasn't short on suitors for his services. Plenty of teams still viewed Manning as an elite quarterback, and most of the teams who flirted with the league's most recognizable player were perceived to be at the very least reasonably close to contending for a Super Bowl: San Francisco, Miami, Arizona, Tennessee, and Denver all at times appeared to be the front runner in the Peyton Sweepstakes, but it was the Broncos who eventually wound up wooing the popular signal caller. This Sunday night marks Manning's first return to Indianapolis as a visiting player.
Denver boasts a surprisingly vast connection to the Hoosier State when it comes to quarterbacks. Between the Elway and Manning tenures, five other former Broncos QBs who lined up under center for the team between 1983 and 2013 have ties to Indiana. And with Manning's first return to Indiana as a visiting player this weekend, now felt like the best time to explore a unique thread connecting the two and take a trip across the state that produced Larry Bird, the original Coca-Cola bottle, and the infamous Little 500.
Manning's connection to Indy is obviously well documented, as is by proxy his connection to Terre Haute, where the Colts held training camp for the majority of his career. The year prior to Manning's arrival in Denver, a pair of players with Indiana connections appeared on the Broncos' depth chart: Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. Both played their college ball in Indiana, with Orton attending Purdue while Quinn led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Orton started 33 games for the Broncos but was never able to elevate his game beyond the dreaded "game manager" level, and the team eventually moved on to former Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick Tim Tebow. Quinn was relegated to back-up duties throughout his time as a Bronco.
Orton was acquired from the Chicago Bears in a trade for Denver's 2006 first round draft pick Jay Cutler. Cutler's Indiana roots reach all the way back to his high school playing days at Heritage Hills High School in Santa Claus, Indiana, where he helped lead his team to a Class 3A State Football Championship. Before Cutler's reign, you have to go back to 2003 when former Notre Dame QB Steve Beuerlein started a pair of games for the Broncos.
Brian Griese started 51 games for the Broncos between 1999-2002, and Griese's Indiana connection (although admittedly somewhat loose) is that his father led the Boilermakers of Purdue on the gridiron and was born in the southern city of Evansville. Griese was the heir apparent when Elway retired after leading the Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl wins, but was ultimately replaced by Jake Plummer.
Elway was initially drafted out of Stanford by the Colts (the same general path current Colts starter Luck has taken), though Elway refused to join the team before ultimately being shipped to Denver in an iconic trade. Still, Elway is still not the earliest instance of Denver welcoming a QB with some sort of connection to Indiana: the franchise's first QB in 1960, the late Frank Trupicka, played college football at Notre Dame. Trupicka, who like Manning wore the #18 (Trupicka gave approval to the team for Manning to wear his retired #18 jersey in 2012), passed away in September 2013.
Andrew Majors lives in Denver and is an award-winning journalist who currently works as a content strategist at a digital marketing firm. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewMajors
- Sports & Recreation
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