INDIANAPOLIS — If Peyton Manning wanted a preview of what retirement might look and feel like, the Indianapolis Colts gave him a brief glimpse Sunday night.
The player who brought the city a Super Bowl and more during his 14 years here took the field with his new Denver teammates some 10 minutes before kickoff.
What began as boos for the Broncos quickly turned to cheers once Manning was spotted coming out of the tunnel. The crowd rose to its feet inside Lucas Oil Stadium — built in no small part thanks to Manning’s contributions to the Colts’ franchise — and stayed on its feet, applauding for much of a 90-second highlight reel of Manning’s career in Indianapolis.
The 37-year-old quarterback acknowledged the cheers while standing along the visitors’ sideline. He took off his helmet and turned to face the different sections, grinning sheepishly and waving on occasion.
Manning was treated to one other pregame cheer when he popped up on the stadium’s giant video board during the national anthem.
There were concerns that the Colts, who drafted Manning in 1998, might give him too lavish a welcome back, the kind of tribute usually reserved for departing hometown heroes rather than opposing quarterbacks. But some of the warmth came off the reception when Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay suggested in an interview last week that for all the winning Manning’s tenure included — the Colts won eight division titles and two AFC crowns — there should have been more than one Super Bowl.
Some in the crowd appeared to have moved on as well. For the all No. 18 Manning Colts jerseys pulled out of mothballs, there were plenty of fans backing his successor, Andrew Luck, with No. 12 jerseys. And then there were the signs:
“I’d rather have a young Colt than an old Bronco,” read one.
“12 is the new 18,” read another.
Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Jeff Saturday, three of Manning’s former teammates and key offensive contributors, also got rousing welcomes during pregame introductions.
This was the NFL’s biggest homecoming since Brett Favre returned to Green Bay in 2009 and some locals said this was the biggest regular-season game since the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.