Image courtesy of ESPN
IUSportCom’s Brandon Bender gives his take on how Andrew Luck is well on his way to succeeding former Colt, Peyton Manning.
Nobody was ready to say goodbye. I wasn’t, and I’m sure neither were you.
But if you watched the circumstances unfold closely, as much as you refused to believe it, you realized it was inevitable that the Indianapolis Colts would release Peyton Manning. How in the world could this have happened? Only if your legendary future Hall-of-Fame-quarterback—who had not missed a single start in his career—suddenly misses the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, causing a stunning collapse from nine consecutive playoff seasons with 10-plus wins, to a 2-14 last place record, and the position to land the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
For months, fans and media wondered what the future held for Peyton Manning. Many speculated if Peyton would ever return healthy enough to play football again, let alone for the Colts. Some debated whether or not the Colts could afford to have two quarterbacks, while others wondered if it would be worth it for the Colts to keep him at 36 years old and approaching the end of his career. That, to go along with other expensive, aging veterans. Few even feared the unthinkable—Peyton Manning’s time with the Colts was coming to an end.
With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the top overall pick waiting in the wings, Colts owner Jim Irsay made it clear that they would select him. The upside on Luck was tremendous. Some scouts had him ranked as the top quarterback to come out of college since…Peyton Manning. All signs pointed to the Colts rebuilding and starting over with Andrew Luck.
On March 7, the Manning era officially ended. In his biggest and most difficult decision as an NFL owner, Irsay decided to part ways with the legendary quarterback—the face of the Colts and the city of Indianapolis for 14 years. Some might have seen it coming, but still, to hear the news that Peyton Manning was no longer a Colt was very much a shock. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Peyton Manning was destined to be a Colt for his entire career, and just the idea of him playing anywhere else was unthinkable.
But yet, for whatever reason, it happened. It was time to move on. With the franchise now clearly in transition mode, many long-time fan favorites were also released, including running back Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, linebacker Gary Brackett, and safety Melvin Bullitt. Wide receiver Pierre Garçon signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins. Head coach Jim Caldwell was also relieved of his duties, as well as longtime president Bill Polian, as well his son and vice-president of football operations and general manager, Chris. Spoiled fans in Blue Nation, still in shock from all the sudden change, gave up their season tickets, not wanting any part in watching a rebuilding project.
On April 26, the Colts officially selected Andrew Luck with the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. A new era of football had begun now that they had their quarterback of the future. With so many new young faces (and an entirely new coaching staff and front office), many believed that the Colts would certainly have the look of an expansion team, meaning Luck would not have much talent to work with as a rookie. While analysts believed he would eventually become an All-Pro quarterback, Luck was expected to struggle as a rookie.
In his highly anticipated regular season debut against the Bears, he did just that, going 23-45 for 309 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in a 41-21 loss. Given that Manning seemed like his old self in his first game with the Broncos (he went 19-26 for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Steelers), some fans were quick to jump the gun on Luck, believing that the Colts should’ve kept Manning. However, other fans that had finally come to terms with Manning’s release knew that it would simply take time for Luck to adjust to the NFL, not to mention deal with the pressure of replacing a legend. After all, Luck’s statistics from his rookie debut were nearly identical to that of Manning’s, and look how he turned out.
Luck continued to have his ups and downs through the first three games, but in week 4 at home against Green Bay, a legend was born. Down 21-3 at halftime, Luck orchestrated a monumental comeback with the help of Reggie Wayne (who, to the surprise of many, re-signed with the Colts in the offseason) on the way to an emotional 30-27 win with head coach Chuck Pagano in the hospital fighting leukemia. In throwing for a career-best 362 yards and two touchdowns (along with another rushing touchdown), Luck removed any doubt on whether or not he could succeed Peyton Manning as the new face of the Indianapolis Colts.
Brace yourselves, football fans. Andrew Luck has arrived. And he’s only going to get better.