Colts owner Jim Irsay plans to honor Peyton Manning when the Denver Broncos come to Indianapolis next week. I suggest a full-course meal, heavy on starches, 20 minutes before the game.
I'm joking, of course. Make it 30 minutes before. They have to do something to slow Manning's passing pace down.
Irsay's plans are far less sinister. The Colts have a tradition of showing video highlights of former players when they return. I can't remember the first one I saw in person, but it might have been linebacker David Thornton when he switched from the Colts to the Titans. The Colts honored Jeff Saturday with the Packers last season. It's a feel-good couple minutes between quarters.
Manning's return is more emotionally complicated. No offense to Thornton or Saturday, great guys and great players, but they weren't Manning. They weren't the face of the franchise, the reason the Colts were able to succeed and ultimately build Lucas Oil Stadium.
They didn't leave in a bittersweet goodbye news conference where all parties choked up and wondered why it had come to this.
Fans felt sad when Thornton and Saturday left (and Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Dwight Freeney, etc.), but those players didn't go on to make a case for being the best in the game after changing uniforms.
Manning is such a heavy favorite to be the NFL's MVP again, I'm not sure there's even reason for conjecture about who's the next-best bet.
Irsay told USA Today of his plans to honor Manning when he returns for the Sunday Night Game on Oct. 20.
"We're going to have a great tribute to him," Irsay told USA Today. "It's going to be something where you go into it wanting to have a lot of fun, where you love Peyton as a Colt fan, but now we're competing against him."
Irsay didn't get into details of the tribute, but it's the right move to allow fans to cheer Manning and express their appreciation for his years with the Colts on a day when they'll have the weird feeling of rooting against him.
"It'll be tremendous," Irsay said. "They will cheer, as deserved. When he comes back on the field, I think there will be a boisterous standing ovation, as there should be. He means so much to our franchise. It's going to be crazy, but mostly it'll be fun. I hope it's just a great game."
The Colts play at San Diego this Monday night and will have a short week before playing the Broncos. Denver has the equivalent of a “bye” this week as Broncos play Jacksonville.
Is it too soon to start anticipating Manning's return, since both teams have a game to play yet? Should Irsay have waited a few more days to talk about Manning'? Is there any chance Colts safety LaRon Landry will not be listed as day-to-day from here until eternity? The answer to all those questions is no.
Broncos at Colts is so huge, it needs extra time to sink in. The Broncos will be undefeated – they're a record 28-point favorite over the Jaguars – and the Colts will be the underdogs against Denver whether they win at San Diego or not.
It's not too early to speculate on how awkward Manning's return will be in a lot of ways. The stands will have plenty of orange No.18 jerseys and some blue No.18 jerseys. Yet somehow, some way, the fans need to bring the noise they leveled on Seattle's Russell Wilson every time Manning is ready to take a snap.
In his previous NFL lifetime, Manning silenced the Colts crowd. They used to post “Quiet please, offense at work” on the RCA Dome scoreboard when Manning was running the team.
You have to wonder if Manning will wave his arms as part of an old habit in trying to quiet the crowd. Would they follow his lead if he did? What happens if Greg Toler or Vontae Davis pick off a Manning pass? Cheers? Awkward golf clapping? Gnashing of teeth? It'll be fascinating.
There are some who are Manning fans first, Colts fans second. There are some who are equal fans of both. And there are those who bleed Colts blue and can intellectually process that Manning is on the other side now.
If Colts fans want to honor Manning, they should scream like they've never screamed before and try to disrupt the Broncos offense. Respect the new, weird competition. I guarantee Manning will hold nothing back.