Picture yourself as a modern-day Hoosier version of Rip Van Winkle, crawling out of an 18-month nap that spared you from any memory of Peyton Manning's disabling neck injury and the putrid 2011 season turned in by the Indianapolis Colts in Manning's absence. Tuning in to ESPN or your local news cast in these warming late May days, you might expect to see Number 18 whipping the ball all around the field as he takes his team through spring OTAs. Now, imagine that something about the scene unfolding in front of you seems slightly off-kilter, as if you and Manning have been heaved into a alternate football universe that is rotated a few longitudinal degrees from its usual Circle City epicenter. This disjointed scene is precisely the one that I found myself struggling with as I read the accounts and gazed at the snapshots of Manning's first ever organized team activities with the Denver Broncos on May 21.
By all accounts, Manning has made marvelous progress in his rehabilitation from multiple neck surgeries since he was released by the Colts in early March and signed with the Broncos later that month. Throughout the intervening period, we have heard that Manning's neck was healed, that his arm strength was improving, that he would be better than ever in the thin air of Denver. It seems that all of this may be coming to pass now that he has had the chance to air it out a bit with his new teammates. Reports from Broncos camp on Monday indicated that Manning's throws were strong and accurate, and the word that resonated with me the most was "zip." As in, it's still hard to hear about Manning suiting up for another club when his last season in Indy yielded "zip" in terms of touchdowns, or yardage, or even snaps.
But, of course, we are left with the promise of Andrew Luck and the fun of watching a new team personality develop under general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano. I'm excited to watch the the Colts build themselves back into a contender, but there is no way that I'll be able to keep my eyes off the Broncos. Particularly when Manning faces a milestone, like his first OTA, or taking his first series of hits (still to come), he will be fascinating drama. If he finds himself still playing in January while the Colts enter another winter of planning, I suspect that I'll have a new favorite playoff team, for one year anyway.
I'm a Colts fan through-and-through, but I'm glad that I won't have to choose between rooting for a building Indy team and a Manning-led team in the playoff hunt. The schedule Gods have given us a one-year reprieve on that front, but I won't be surprised to see the gloves come off in 2013.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.
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