March 7, 2012
Dear Andrew Luck,
Hello sir. My name is Jacob Greenberg. We have never met.
So I’ll be honest — I don’t follow college football all that closely. The “Good Ol’ Boy” aspects of the sport have never appealed to me. The heavy southern drawls of the commentators makes me cringe, and the plantation overseer quality of some of the coaches gives me great pause. Honestly, I’d just as soon learn about the best players in the NCAA when they turn professional and get paid legitimately for their labor. But I’ve heard of you, for sure. I watched you a few times this season against the Pac-12, and let me tell you (about you): you’re worth the hype. Your arm is great. Your field sense is impressive as well. You display leadership. And you’ve got a great beard. According to the hype, you’re “the most complete quarterback since Peyton Manning.”
Which is a good thing, because you’re taking his job.
Surely you’ve seen the news today, Andrew. Maybe gotten a text or two. Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, let his franchise quarterback go today, in order to draft you first overall in a few weeks. It was a widely expected move, but honestly no less shocking. I’m barely a football fan, let alone a Colts fan, and I’m even a bit flummoxed by it all. As long as I’ve watched sports, and been aware of Peyton Manning, he was wearing #18 for the Indianapolis Colts. He was one of those guys whose name was more than associated with a franchise — it almost embodied the franchise itself. Tom Brady. Kobe Bryant. Derek Jeter. Peyton Manning. No longer. He’s not part of the club anymore. And now, you’re going to be the guy to pick up the pieces of the Colts franchise, and rebuild the house that, well, Peyton Manning built.
It’s funny how fate works, isn’t it? Much had to happen for us to reach this moment. There had to be complications with the neck surgeries. Hell, it had to be the neck in the first place, instead of a knee, or a shoulder. The Colts had to finish with a 2-12 record. They had to lose their last game of the season (they nearly won). Peyton needed to have a hefty $28 million bonus due to him by Thursday, which made today’s decision even more urgent. And most importantly, you needed to be as amazing as you were this past season, to make an owner say: “yes, it’s time to part with 50,000 total passing yards, 400 touchdown passes, 11 pro bowl appearances, 11 playoff appearances in 12 years, one superbowl ring, and one superbowl MVP. You are our new guy.” That’s a testament to your skill, and hopefully a ringing endorsement for the inauguration of your professional career.
Still, it won’t be easy making Colts fans and Indianapolis residents forget Peyton. Indianapolis is a two-sport city in a state that loves basketball, yet the Colts seemingly are king. Their games are among the most well attended in the NFL, and their fans are famously loyal. Peyton helped put Indianapolis on the map. Their nine consecutive playoff appearances guaranteed their visibility, and Peyton’s cool, intelligent demeanor (and lily white skin and souther drawl) provided the team with the best spokesman
a professional football team could possibly want. His success helped to build the Lucas Oil Dome, which just hosted a Super Bowl. And, yes, he won. He won a lot. The horror of last season may have dimmed those successes, but they are legitimate successes nonetheless. According to experts, you will have to recreate that magic.
Moreover, you will have to recreate that magic — or at least show that you have the capability of recreation — as a rookie. Yes, true, franchise players often don new jerseys, especially in football. But in most cases, there is a proven, or at least promising heir apparent waiting in the wings. When Brett Favre left for New York City, Aaron Rodgers took the stage, and eventually put on his own championship belt (discount double check!). Joe Montana was succeeded by Steve Young after he left for Kansas City, who went on to win a superbowl of his own. But Peyton? You know what his replacement’s record in the NFL is? 0-0. Nothing lost. Nothing won. Nothing proven. Nothing given. That’s you, man.
Feeling the pressure? Yeah. It’s a tall task. But, perhaps I can offer an example to help ease your mind; to assure you that things are probably going to be all right. Problem is: it has nothing to do with football. I mean, this is a basketball blog, after all.
So maybe you’ve heard of LeBron James. He’s kind of a big deal in the NBA. He spent his first seven years in Cleveland, playing for the Cavaliers. His rise to glory was somewhat similar to Peyton’s. Both players struggled in their early careers. Peyton went 3-13 in his rookie season, and missed the playoffs two seasons later with a 6-10 record. Similarly, LeBron didn’t make the playoffs until his third season. However, like Peyton, LeBron figured it out, and figured it out in a big way. His play made his teammates better, his fans excited, and his franchise a winner. LeBron personally hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2005 season, and really isn’t expected to ever again. And while he was a Cavalier, he put Cleveland firmly on the basketball map. Before he arrived, they were a bunch of nobodys; mostly famous for being the team that Jordan beat in one of the more memorable buzzer beaters of all time. But not during the reign of King James. The Q was loud and rowdy; one of the best places to see a basketball game. And the Cavs were winners, and contenders. Things were good in the city that LeBron built.
Though the departures of each player differed drastically, the resulting outcome was the same: they left, and their former teams lost. A lot. Peyton chose the classy route, appearing with the Colts owner, and showing considerable emotion over what was clearly a wrenching and undesirable situation. LeBron made a decision — The Decision — and chose not to inform any of the Cavs brass about his intentions to leave Cleveland as a free agent. Their respective cities responded accordingly. The Colts, and their fans, are showing nothing but love and support for the man who turned their franchise into a perennial winner. The Cavs, meanwhile, have yet to forgive the player. But regardless, both teams and fans have suffered. The Colts already got a taste of life without Peyton, and it wasn’t pretty. And in 2010-2011 — year one post-LeBron — the Cavs suffered a season they would just as soon forget winning 19 games, and losing 63. The fans were dismayed. The team looked awful. What a terrible end to a tale.
But that’s the thing: it wasn’t the end! The Cavs were lucky enough to garner the most important object involved in what NBA commissioner David Stern calls “the annual rite of renewal,” the first pick in the draft. They wisely chose Duke University point guard Kyrie Irving, and things are going quite well. No, he’s no LeBron, but he’s pretty damn good. His 18.6 points, along with 5.2 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal, already put him amongst the best point guards in the leage. He’s certainly got a stage presence and an intangible leadership quality about him, and as Coach Byron Scott has put more and more responsibility in his hands, his entire team has bought in. Both vets and young players look to Kyrie to make the big play, and most of the time, he does. And the fans? They love him, and seemingly, they love this Cavs team. Though the Cavs don’t look that likely to make the playoffs this season, they are clearly a much improved team, and with fans fully behind their new star, they are patient — and maybe even excited — to see where this team goes.
What Kyrie is doing in Cleveland — helping a city move above and beyond a star they hoped would be around forever — is exactly what you need to do in your first year in Indianapolis. You will not fill Peyton’s shoes. But, you shouldn’t be expected to. Your goal is to reimagine and reinvigorate, not recreate and repeat. The Cavs used to have the best player in the game, a bunch of trash who watched him dominate, and cap space that they earmarked for said best player. They now have a very good point guard, and a rapidly improving roster to support him, and a great cap situation for the future. The Colts are following suit, cutting contracts and filling the roster with younger players. Your future is bright, regardless of the shadow you’re currently standing in.
And I hope you still have that beard.
J. Joseph B. Greenberg