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Faith in Manning biting Colts now

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Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock writes about the sports world from every angle, including those other writers can't imagine or muster courage to address. His columns are humorous, thought-provoking, agenda-free, honest and unpredictable. E-mail him, follow his Twitter or become a fan of Jason Whitlock on Facebook.

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Peyton Manning, the gold standard for game-day preparation, left the Indianapolis Colts totally unprepared for this football inevitability.

Even in this era of two-hand touch on the quarterback, no one — not Tom Brady or even Brett Favre — plays them all. Not in the NFL.

Manning, already set to miss the season opener, had a third surgery on his neck Thursday morning and now will miss at least two months.

There is a price for going all in with one player for such an extended time, and the Colts are about to pay it.

That is not written to undervalue the rewards reaped from No. 18. Whatever the toll for his neck injury, back pain, potentially lengthy stay on the sideline and Indy’s unpreparedness for his absence — and I think the penalties could be steep — you can argue Manning was well worth it.

Manning’s value to and impact on Indianapolis exceeds Michael Jordan’s to Chicago, Favre’s to Green Bay, Muhammad Ali’s to Louisville, and Larry Bird’s to Boston.

Beyond the regular-season victories, the playoff appearances, the Super Bowl title and the passing records, Peyton Manning gave my hometown an identity. He took the Nap out of “Naptown.” He made out-of-towners acknowledge the success of former Mayor Bill Hudnut’s transformation of downtown Indy from parking lot ghost town to bustling, trendy entertainment destination. Manning made the Hoosier Dome rock and Lucas Oil Stadium a suitable location for the Super Bowl.

Manning arrived in Indiana in the last days of Bobby Knight’s reign at Indiana University and shortly after the state ruined its two most cherished and famous traditions, single-class high school basketball (Hoosier Hysteria) and the Indy 500 (Tony George’s split with CART).

Manning led a football revolution. A state defined by basketball and a city known for open-wheel racing fell in love with football and the home team’s goofy quarterback.

High school football now rules the state. My alma mater, Warren Central High, a powerhouse since the days of Jeff George, is now a football factory, a contender for the mythical national championship, home to more than 15 Division I prospects. My Warriors will have a difficult time winning the big-class state championship. That’s how good football has become in a former basketball state.

 

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Peyton Manning embodies Indiana the way Bobby Knight once did. Knight was a dictator who lorded over an empire not entirely his own creation. Manning, surprisingly, is a dictator, too, albeit a kinder, gentler one. Because he is solely responsible for creating Indy’s football culture, Manning’s stranglehold on the Colts is firmer than Knight’s grasp was on Indiana basketball.

After a fluky, Mike Davis-led run to the Final Four, Indiana basketball collapsed sans Knight.

I can’t imagine the Colts surviving a week, let alone a season sans 18. They’re not remotely prepared. Manning never gave them the freedom to prepare. For years he required his personal valet, Jim Sorgi, be retained as Indy’s backup quarterback. In the mid-2000s, Tony Dungy brought in his old Tampa quarterback Shaun King to back up Manning. King had playoff and regular-season experience. He outplayed Sorgi in the preseason. King was cut.

Curtis Painter was being groomed to be Manning’s new valet. But Painter simply can’t master the art of pretending to be a capable clipboard holder. He’s terrible. The lockout didn’t mask or excuse his incompetence.

The Colts have drafted two quarterbacks since 1998 (the year Manning was plucked at No. 1): Sorgi in the sixth round of 2004 and Painter in the sixth round of 2009.

The Colts have never taken Manning insurance. Recent signee Kerry Collins is not insurance. He’s a retired fire extinguisher.

According to Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, Manning experienced (unreported) neck problems throughout the 2010 season and tried all kinds of non-surgical solutions early in the offseason before agreeing to surgery in late May. Manning signed a new, $90 million contract in July.

Manning got his money before anyone truly understood the seriousness of his neck injury. Manning took care of Manning. He made it difficult for the Colts to take care of the Colts. Surgery in February might have allowed the Colts to consider selecting a quarterback high in the latest draft.

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The Packers picked Aaron Rodgers when Favre was 35, still healthy and taking every snap. Manning is 35.

What’s even rougher for the Colts is their entire offensive system is predicated on having Manning at the controls. For the last decade, Manning has been Indy’s offensive coordinator. He ran the offense on the field and consulted with Tom Moore on the sideline. Moore is gone. So is Tony Dungy. You can make a pretty compelling case Manning is Indy’s head coach. Jim Caldwell simply wears the headset.

The Colts aren’t going anywhere without Peyton Manning.

I think Bill Polian is the best general manager in football and maybe the best in all of professional sports. But he can’t fix this. The whole organization is built around 18.

The success (Super Bowl, new stadium) and failure (only one title and consistent offensive stinkers in the postseason) of the Colts the past decade can all be directly tied to an overreliance on Manning. I wrote a column about this issue in January when the Colts lost to the Jets in the playoffs.

I believe Manning wanted and manipulated the organization into being singularly attached to his rare talent. It was fun calling the plays and signing the record contracts that go along with being the most important player in football.

Sunday won’t be fun, and it just might foreshadow what’s in store for the Colts moving forward.

Tagged: Colts, Vikings, Giants, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Shaun King, Jim Sorgi, Curtis Painter

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