In many respects, the return of quarterback Peyton Manning to Indianapolis has no NFL precedent. Yes, Brett Favre returned to Green Bay, but only after he burned the bridge. (And then texted photos of the wreckage.)
Manning returns not as a pariah but as a hero to Indianapolis, the city where the pro football team largely languished for 14 years before his arrival. (Yes, Jim Harbaugh, we remember that you took the Colts to the brink of the Super Bowl.)
When it comes to one of the greatest players in football history going home to be embraced, the greatest hockey player of all time can relate.
“Peyton won’t sleep much this week because of the emotions and excitement that he’s probably feeling,” Gretzky told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t speak for him, but I know what I went through. It’s pretty emotional. I spent a lot of years there, like he did, and you become almost friends with the city. . . .
“Indianapolis is similar to Edmonton in that it’s not New York or Los Angeles. So you’re at the stadium, and the places you go to eat, and the people you meet in the community are the people who are in those seats. So they become friends. They’re not just fans, they become more like friends. So it becomes very emotional.”
Coincidentally, Gretzky made his return to Edmonton after being traded to the L.A. Kings 25 years ago tonight. Tomorrow night, Peyton will get the chance to duplicate the experience.
In October 1988, Gretzky (who played minor league hockey in Indianapolis) received a four-minute standing ovation in Edmonton.
“There’s nothing like winning a championship,” Gretzky said. “There’s nothing like being told, ‘You guys are champions,’ and lifting the trophy. But for those four minutes, it may have been the greatest four minutes of my entire career.”
For Peyton, the question is how long the ovation will be — and whether it will in any way disrupt him as he tries to focus on the task of taking the Broncos to 7-0 and chasing the two rings that his former owner wishes they’d won in Indy.