There was a time when Indianapolis Colts fans did not display the rabid loyalty seen in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Foxboro. The Hoosier Dome — before being renamed — was filled with curious people unaware of how or when to cheer their city's team. Indianapolis had an NFL team, but it was not an NFL town.
Many Sundays, the visiting fans nearly outnumbered those on hand to watch the Colts, and there was consistent talk that Colts ownership was actively seeking asylum in Los Angeles, the second largest television market in America.
Then came the 1998 NFL Draft. The Colts used their #1 pick to select a tall kid with impeccable lineage out of the University of Tennessee named Peyton Manning, and everything changed.
Manning took it upon himself to teach Colts fans to not cheer loudly when the team operated offensively, gave the city a run of regular season excellence that has never been equaled, a Super Bowl Championship, and a brand new stadium that led to an opportunity to host Super Bowl XLVI.
So much good came from Manning's arrival in Indy that a compelling argument can be made that he is the most important sports figure for any city since Babe Ruth came to New York.
And now he is coming home dressed in Denver Broncos orange, and the city is conflicted. Fans still have strong feelings for Manning, but also love the Colts and Andrew Luck, Manning's talented successor.
Worse, Manning isn't on some valedictory lap - a shell of his former self. Manning is captaining the most productive offense in the NFL at a level higher than any in his career. This isn't Namath in Los Angeles or Unitas in San Diego returning to the cities where they had their greatest moments.
This is the best quarterback in the history of the NFL coming back at a level beyond what he enjoyed in Indianapolis during his 13 seasons of greatness. Manning's offense has scored 265 points through six games. Second is the Dallas Cowboys with 183.
Manning may have a tough time finding the visitors locker room in the building that his excellence built, but before the game starts fans and the Colts will have no trouble honoring his legacy. There will be cheering for an opposing quarterback in a way that will bother those rabid fans who now see Manning as the enemy — a ridiculous thought harbored by those silly enough to cheer for laundry instead of humanity.
Regardless of the color of Manning's jersey, or the amount of pain he might inflict upon an improving (until the Monday nightmare in San Diego) Colts defense, he is still every bit as worthy of the adulation of Colts fans as he was when he led their team to an incredible regular season record of 138-54 from 1999-2010.
Just as the logic of releasing Manning is unassailable when looking at the Colts big picture, it is impossible to look at Manning on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and not feel a sense of pride and love for a man who did so much for a franchise, a city, and its fans.
Being blinded by the color of his jersey is a choice some will ill-advisedly make. He is still Peyton Manning, and part of him still has a place in our hearts — and it should.
Setting aside partisan color-driven rancor for one afternoon to appreciate the gifts Manning shared here for a generation is the logical and entirely decent thing to do.
Once the game starts, appreciating Manning as an Indianapolis hero or trying to disrupt him as a member of the opposition is a personal choice. Prior to kickoff, a city that never got a chance to say goodbye and thank you should embrace the chance to do so — loudly.
Kent Sterling posts relevant sports/media news and perspective multiple times each day on kentsterling.com, and hosts "Ahead of the Curve" each Saturday from 11a-1p with Fox 59 sports director Chris Hagan.