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INDIANAPOLIS – March was the most intense month.
March was when Peyton Manning embarked upon his review of the previous season, a laborious task that began on the first Monday of the month. This is when Manning arrived at the Indianapolis Colts' headquarters at 6:30 a.m., ready to lock himself in the offensive coach's meeting room with offensive coordinator Tom Moore and whichever quarterback coach the team had at that time. They clicked on the television, cued up the Colts' first offensive play of the season and tore it apart.
Did the play work? If not, why? Was it blocked right? Were the receivers in the best position? How about the running back? Did it turn into a sack? Manning HATED sacks. What could they do to prevent sacks?
They wrote all their thoughts about the season's first play on pads in front of them, always asking themselves: "How can we do this differently?" When they couldn't discuss the first play anymore they went to the second, dissecting it for every flaw. Then the third and the fourth and the fifth …
The review went all day that first day, ending only when the men couldn't possibly break apart another play. They went home only to arrive at 6:30 the following morning and every weekday morning after that until the month was over and the autopsy of Indianapolis' offense the previous season was complete.
This was Manning's idea, of course, because even the most insane, obsessive coach could not conceive of such a meticulous process. Manning, however, could.
"You know how people have compulsions?" Moore says. "This was his compulsion. He wants to be the best player."
And yet as Moore ponders the Marches he lost to Manning's season review, he does not moan with exasperation. Instead, he says this:
"Peyton made me a better coach. I'm proud to say that."
When Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis this weekend as the Denver Broncos quarterback, he can stand in the middle of downtown, turn all the way around and see the legacy he left behind.
Looming in the southwest is the enormous fieldhouse-like, $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium that wouldn't have been built without the success he brought. To the west rises the huge hotels, erected just before the Super Bowl that Manning worked hard to secure for the city. To the east is the downtown restaurant Harry and Izzy's that he helped open with Craig Huse, the proprietor of the city's famed Elmo Steak House. Storefront windows are filled with blue Colts jerseys – most of which no longer bear his familiar No. 18 – but are nonetheless a silent tribute to the man who turned a basketball and motor racing town into a football mecca.
But more than the concrete and mortar reminders of Manning's impact are the subtle ones left in the team headquarters on the north side of town. The Colts, even after a messy release salvaged with a graceful news conference, haven't scrubbed his name away. The corridors still bear the painted lists of division titles he won. His image remains on the Lucas Oil scoreboard in a stadium suite mockup once used to woo corporate purchasers. And he lives in the trainers and equipment managers who continue to work for the team two years after his departure.
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"You can kind of still feel him in the building in the sense of the way has kind of been paved, the expectation has been set, the standard has been set," says Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is in his first season with the team. "If the quarterback says: 'We're going to meet at 11 to throw,' we will all be there at 11 to throw The equipment guys will be there, the trainers will be there, there will be water there and footballs and a video guy and it's just expected. That's not the case everywhere. The groundwork has been laid."
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri came to Indianapolis in 2006 after spending five seasons with another winning quarterback known for his overwhelming preparation. But nothing Tom Brady did could prepare Vinatieri for Manning, who had to know everything that was going on around the Colts.
"To a point where he's so into it you say, 'Is this guy ever going to have any fun?' I'd always sit there and say, 'Man, does he ever watch a TV show or have a beer and relax?' Because when he would go home from here I know he had the Xs and Os machine [on] and he's breaking down film on his day off."
But this was Manning in Indianapolis, a man who friends say filled dinner conversations with random brain teasers (quick, what's the answer to 30 + 5 x 2?). He needed facts. He needed details. He bombarded his coaches daily with questions. Each new play needed a justification. What was the purpose? How would it work? Where would they use it? How was it going to be practiced. Moore, who is now an offensive consultant for the Arizona Cardinals, never minded the interrogations. How could he? It showed Manning cared.
He showed up for his 1998 interview at the scouting combine with the Colts – held in the city that would come to be his own – carrying a legal pad with a page and a half of questions. After the Indianapolis staff barraged him with inquiries, he pulled out the legal pad and interrogated them right back.
"That's good," Moore says. "He wants to know. He wants answers. He wants to be on top of everything."
Nothing escaped Manning's notice. He watched everybody at practice. It wasn't enough to worry about his throws, or the receivers or the running backs or if the offensive linemen were in the right place, he demanded the scout team players on defense were playing the same techniques as the teams they were going to play.
"You can make it sound any way you want to because it was what it was," says Vinatieri when asked if Manning could be a controlling presence around the facility. "It wasn't a negative thing [that] he paid so much attention to the little details, it was like having an extra coach at your position. I think Jimmy Sorgi and the other [backup quarterbacks] felt that the most in the sense that Peyton expected them to put in a lot of work on their days off and put in a lot of additional time as well."
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In fact Manning did. Little in his pursuit of perfection seemed as important as game tape. He devoured it. But by season's end – no matter how compelled he was to drive through every play of that week's opponent – there was simply too much tape to watch. Eventually he worked out a compromise: he took the tape of the team's last four games and gave the other 12 to the backup quarterbacks, asking them to parse the tapes for trends that could be exploited.
Moore has a favorite memory of Manning's obsession. It's the 2010 night the Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens to advance to the AFC championship game against the New York Jets. Manning showered, dressed and immediately drove to the team's facility where he pulled up old tapes of the Ravens defense back when it was run by Jets coach Rex Ryan, figuring there was something from the past that Ryan would use against him again.
"A lot of thought goes into what Peyton does," Moore says. "One of his greatest strengths is his tremendous recall. When a situation comes up he can recall what happened way back, and then when he recalls it he can apply it."
From over the phone in Arizona, Moore chuckles realizing how overbearing this sounds.
"[Peyton] wants to know everything and that's good, that's passion for the game," he says.
But who could complain when the result was winning? The Colts had not won much in the 14 years they were in Indianapolis before Manning. He almost single-handedly brought the victories by demanding the team live up to an almost unreachable standard that he set.
"I'm starting to hear more and more stories," says Joe Staysniak, who played guard for the Colts before Manning and became a longtime radio host in the city. "If they lost a ballgame when you came in [to the facility the next day] it was miserable for everybody. It was a miserable week for everybody because Peyton was miserable.
"Some of the coach's jobs became easier because he did their job for him."
Think of a professional athlete who became as synonymous with a city as Manning, giving it an identity, making it his like no one before. By the time the Colts had won the Super Bowl in 2007, Manning had become Indianapolis and Indianapolis had become Manning. So much of the city revolved around his movements. He was such the man of routine. Soon everyone knew Manning went to St. Elmo Steak House after games, descending to the private room downstairs that became unofficially known as "The Peyton Manning Room."
Sometimes he stopped at the bar where he knew most of the staff by their names and signed autographs and chatted with fans. When his fame grew too big and walking in the front door was not possible, Huse gave him the code to a private elevator that whisked him downstairs.
Each game week had its own dinner and they too fit an annual schedule. One Sunday he would dine with old Tennessee teammates, another might have his parents and brothers, still another his wife and close family friends. He suggested that a television might be a great addition to the room, so Huse installed so Manning could watch the late games, undoubtedly searching for something to exploit in an upcoming week.
When Huse told Manning he was opening Harry and Izzy's next door, Manning asked to invest. Huse obliged and the subsequent walkthrough of the restaurant while under construction was like no walkthrough by a famous athlete looking at the construction of a restaurant. Much like the combine, Manning came armed with two pages of questions. Huse never asked but he figures Manning consulted with lawyers, accountants and contractors to understand what he was getting into before looking at the space.
And yet for all the cool detachment and obsession with detail and routine, Manning showed a kind side that endeared him to the city far more than touchdown passes and division titles. Patriots receiver Austin Collie vaguely referred to this the other day, saying that Manning had talked him through some tough times, back when they were Colts teammates and concussions kept Collie from playing.
Huse recalls a day on a Final Four weekend when two of the teams were in St. Elmo while he was eating dinner. He asked to be taken to each group, approaching the players with a smile.
"You could see them process it in their minds: 'This is Peyton Manning,'" Huse says. "He knew it was a big stage for them."
The last image Moore has of Manning in Indianapolis is his worst. It was of that early 2012 day when it was clear Manning would leave the Colts. Moore was already gone from the Colts and now the quarterback who had to know everything with the team was leaving too.
"That's the 21st century," Moore says. "Back in the old days that wouldn't have happened."
"It was hard to see him go," he says.
Then he pauses again.
He is asked if the memory of Manning leaving makes him sad.
"Yes, to answer you," he says, "yes it does."
And so when Manning returns to the town he made a football place, he will not visit the Peyton Manning Room at St. Elmo. There won't be enough time. He won't visit the practice facility whose halls he made his own for 14 years. That wouldn't make sense.
He will fly in with the Broncos, stay in a hotel, play the game Sunday night and leave.
Just a visitor in a place he worked so hard to make his own.
Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald's long TD gave Cards early life.
Atlanta Falcons – Bye.
Baltimore Ravens – With the run game squashed, Joe Flacco almost won it with his arm.
Buffalo Bills – In only his second start, Thad Lewis put the Bills in position to win.
Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton really needed a four-touchdown game.
Chicago Bears – We keep seeing how good Jay Cutler can be.
Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton ended a two-game TD drought with three.
Cleveland Browns – Josh Gordon's seven catches helped the Browns build an early lead.
Dallas Cowboys – What if the Redskins hadn't kicked to Dwayne Harris?
Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning struggled more than he has but was still effective.
Detroit Lions – Hard to ignore Matthew Stafford's four touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers – A.J. Hawk led a defense that stuffed Baltimore's run game.
Houston Texans – Arian Foster's 141 yards were all but ignored.
Indianapolis Colts – Mario Harvey led the defensive effort with nine solo tackles.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon ran past Denver's secondary all day.
Kansas City Chiefs – Derrick Johnson's eight solo tackles and two sacks led the defense.
Miami Dolphins – Bye.
Minnesota Vikings – Kyle Rudolph had nine catches and a touchdown.
New England Patriots – Tom Brady almost ran out of time. Almost.
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees threw TDs to two players who had never caught TDs.
New York Giants – Brandon Jacobs gives the Giants a bit of a running game.
New York Jets – Linebacker David Harris made a few plays on a day when few Jets did.
Oakland Raiders – Denarius Moore's 39-yard touchdown was a brief Raider highlight..
Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Foles makes Eagles quarterback situation interesting.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Ryan Clark led a Steeler defense that did not tackle in London.
St. Louis Rams – Alec Ogletree's 98-yard interception return was part of a huge day.
San Diego Chargers – Another solid performance for Philip Rivers.
San Francisco 49ers – Vernon Davis might have had the best day of any offensive player in the NFL.
Seattle Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch had a productive day on a team win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Vincent Jackson is one of few Bucs playing well.
Tennessee Titans – Bernard Pollard had six solo tackles and a sack.
Washington Redskins – Alfred Morris showed a little of the player he was last year.