When Peyton Manning hangs up his cleats for good sometime after the middle of this decade, the Indianapolis Colts and their fans could be plunged into a dark hole of mediocrity that could take years to escape. Manning’s second neck surgery in less than two years makes it clear that he is human after all and won’t be calling the shots in Indy forever. It only makes sense, then, that we appreciate the golden years that we have left with Number 18 and that the franchise does everything possible to make the most of Manning’s waning physical prime. That’s why it is vital for the Colts to find a real, viable backup for the future Hall of Famer, and to find him now.
The Colts are as spoiled as an NFL team can be when it comes to the play of their franchise quarterback. For 13 years, Manning has put the team on his shoulder pads every Sunday and delivered one storybook performance after another. He has told us, with his constant presence and perpetual excellence, that this is how football life should be. He has convinced us that, really, he is the only quarterback the team needs. Fans, teammates and the Colts’ owners have bought the story, and Manning has rewarded us with the kind of gridiron success that we couldn’t even imagine when the Irsays headede west from Baltimore in 1984.
But for all of his heroics and for all the confidence he has instilled, Manning is aging, whether anyone around here wants to admit it or not. Five years ago, it didn’t matter that the Colts’ backup QB was Jim Sorgi, because his job was to run out the clock when Manning wanted a breather at the end of another easy win. It didn’t REALLY matter a couple of years ago that Curtis Painter took Sorgi’s place and was allowed to self-destruct against the New York Jets as Manning watched his perfect season evaporate. Colts fans were ticked off that the team didn’t push for a historic finish, but we knew that Peyton would be back when the playoffs began. Now, though, it matters.
Manning himself has admitted that his recovery from this second surgery is not progressing as well as he’d hoped, and the NFL lockout has hampered his preparation for the upcoming season. The Colts need someone who can take the ball for a series, a quarter, or *gasp* a whole game and keep the team moving forward. The opportunity to rest occasionally needs to be there for Manning, now 35, in order to keep him as fresh and as productive as possible over the next few seasons.
Peyton Manning is not yet finished as an elite quarterback, but he needs some protection. The Colts have to find a way to swim when their life raft inevitably develops a hole here and there. The time is right to bring in a capable backup.