It was only a couple years ago I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article where L. Jon Wertheim (Jan. 25, 2010) described how Jim Irsay had turned Indiana, traditionally a basketball hotbed, into a football-mad state.
Although Notre Dame or the Ku Klux Klan* immediately come to mind when someone mentions Indiana, the Indianapolis Colts are salient. After all, since drafting Peyton Manning with the first pick in 1998, the Colts have had only two losing seasons.
*Two institutions with polar opposite philosophies and values, I know, but if there’s one similarity it’s that they’re both populated primarily with white people—much like the state of Indiana.
It was this year, however, that we learned that even Manning was mortal.
The man who has thrown for nearly 55 thousand yards, completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and thrown for nearly 400 touchdowns sat on the sidelines while Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky led the team to a 2-14 record that merited the first overall pick in this year’s draft.
With Stanford’s Andrew Luck penciled in as Indianapolis’ quarterback next season and Manning owed a $28 million bonus, Irsay, the man that revolutionized football in Indiana, stood by an emotional Manning as he announced that the team would be releasing their erstwhile franchise quarterback.
Certainly, there may be some that compare this to the Brett Favre retirement—the first of the trilogy, A New Hope (That He’ll Stay Retired)*, where the lasting image of The Gunslinger was him crying at a podium, not a picture of him slingin’ his gun.
*The Favre Strikes Back was pretty cool, but The Return of the Favre never lived up the hype.
Yes, I’m still bitter.
The difference here is that while a small-market team is losing their franchise quarterback, there is no doubt that Manning will play again—be it for Miami, Washington, Arizona, etc.—and that he won’t be wearing open-fly jeans anytime soon.
Still, it is hard to imagine that the Colts will convalesce apace without his intelligence and athleticism under center. Andrew Luck is supposed to be NFL-ready, but so was Ryan Leaf, the player selected in the No. 2 spot behind Manning in 1998.
Even if Luck can play, he’s hardly got a team around him, as evidenced by Indianapolis’ record this season sans Manning.
Could the departure of Manning mean that Indiana returns to a ‘basketball state’?
Notre Dame will always draw big crowds for their sporting events, but that’s not ‘Indiana’s team.’
Similarly, Purdue, Butler and Valparaiso do not appeal to the population of Indiana as a whole.
NASCAR has the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 motorsport races, but those are single events that can only be enjoyed a couple days out of the year.
Basketball is thriving in the crossroads of America, however.
Led by Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison, the Pacers look like they should make the playoffs this year and have a future ahead of them.
More pertinently though, the University of Indiana is a ranked team and should make the NCAA Tournament after going 12-20 (3-15, Big 10) last season.
Basketball appears poised to take over Indiana again.
After all, it is the Hoosier State.
Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at email@example.com.