Dear #18 – I haven’t always been a fan…

I want you all to know since March 19, 2012 it has been very hard for me to do one thing – cheer for Peyton “Freakin'” Manning.

Prior to Feb. 4, 2007 I had never cheered for Peyton Manning. From 1994-97 the third Saturday in September I rooted against Manning because he would face the Florida Gators and “The Ol’ Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier. I like defense when it comes to football but Spurrier and his “Fun-n-Gun” was just too entertaining to watch. I always remember CBS would begin its telecast with a video montage of Manning and Spurrier with the Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” playing the background.

I got a huge laugh when Spurrier said Manning returned for his senior year “because he wanted to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP!”

It was during these games against Florida Manning got the reputation for not being able to win the “Big Game” – each time Florida beat Tennessee.

1994 – Ok really can’t count that one – Manning came in late in the game as No. 1 Florida won 31-15

1995 – Like most of his NFL career it was the D which let Peyton down as UT was up 30-14 at halftime only to watch the Gators 48 second-half points to win 62-37 – hard to win when your defense allows the opposing team to score on six straight possessions.

1996 – this is the one that cemented the moniker to PFM as the Vols ranked No. 2 and the Gators No. 4. Four interceptions in the first half to the Gators and it was 35-0. He did make a valiant comeback with 500 yards passing but it wasn’t enough. Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the game and the Heisman.

1997 – an interception returned 89 yards for a touchdown and it was 14-0 at half. Florida would win the game 33-20.

And if that’s not enough during his brief stint in the NFL with the Redskins Spurrier beat Peyton and the Colts – 26-21! The Ol’ Ball coach is 5-0 against PFM!

Then in April of 1998 Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Even though the Colts moved to my town in 1984 I never wavered for my love of the orange and the Denver Broncos. Obviously there must have been some reason John Elway spurned the Irsays and for me that was enough to not even like the Colts when they came via a midnight run from Baltimore.

Every time Manning and the Colts played the Broncos I cheered against Peyton. I took great joy in 2003 when the Broncos came to Indianapolis and shocked the Colts with a 31-17 win. Of course that was short lived as a mere two weeks later Peyton got his revenge with a 41-10 lashing back at the RCA Dome.

The Broncos and Colts played against each other 10 times from 2002-2010 and Manning was 8-2. That also meant I lost a bet with my Father eight times. I endured eating his favorite ice cream on our Thursday Night Ice Cream adventures eight times. UGH!

OK, I admit it – I probably cheered against Manning a lot more than just when he played the Broncos. Those times he played against the Patriots in the playoffs – I just didn’t care. I don’t even think I watched the games to be honest because I didn’t like either team.

The first and what I thought would be the only time I would cheer for PFM came on Feb. 4, 2007 when the Colts faced the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. Then there was a second time when the Colts played the Saints. I thought I was done cheering for PFM as we on twitter like to call him.

Then came March 7, 2012 and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay and new General Manager Ryan Grigson did the impossible – they cut Peyton Manning. We all know Manning hadn’t played the entire 2011 season and there was great doubt if he would be that elite quarterback again after all of his neck surgeries. I mean even one Indianapolis sports pontificator referred to Manning having a “noodle arm” still because of not having fully recovered from the neck surgeries.

The Broncos were in the midst of their own turmoil. They had Tim Tebow but let’s face it despite the great message Tebow sends he’s not the type of quarterback that’s going to bring Lombardi 3 to Sports Authority Field at MileHigh anytime in the near future. Elway was looking around as he should have in trying to find a solution to eventually bring Lombardi 3 to Denver.

Just like he did with “The Drive” in 1987 against Cleveland, John Elway knew how to orchestrate getting Manning to become a Bronco. He made it feel like a college-recruiting visit.

On March 19, 2012 my life as a Denver Bronco fan in INDIANAPOLIS changed forever when PFM signed to play for the Broncos.

When the announcement was made I immediately went to my Facebook page and commented as my status – “All these years of rooting against Peyton Manning and now I gotta dig in deep and find it in my heart to root for him – WEIRD!” and “Great…JUST GREAT…now anywhere I go wearing a Broncos shirt I am sure someone will come up to me and say ‘Bandwagoner.’ Might have to only wear the Shannon Sharpe jersey when I am in public.”

I even posted a picture of Elway and Manning together with the caption – “Now look Peyton I’m glad you’re here and all but remember I am still King of Denver.”

I have said jokingly numerous times Elway felt sorry for Manning only winning one Super Bowl. He brought Manning to Denver  to get him to an organization that will get him that second and maybe even a third before he retires. Another way for Elway to stick it to the Irsays as he had in 1983.

It has been just as I envisioned it with Manning playing for the Broncos and living in the Indianapolis area. The stores in Indianapolis were flooded with Denver Bronco Manning shirts and jerseys. Some people even wear a jersey that’s half Colts with a 1 and half Broncos with an 8 and then Manning on the back.

Sure enough when I go out in public here in Indianapolis wearing my Denver Bronco golf shirt or sweatshirt someone comes up to me and says “Bandwagon-Peyton Fan.” I then have to go into the whole spiel about how the Broncos were in the first Super Bowl I remember watching and everyone where I was at was rooting for the Cowboys and I felt someone needed to cheer for the Broncos.

It’s interesting when I wear my Shannon Sharpe jersey no one says anything to me. I even wore it to the Broncos-Colts game this season at Lucas Oil Stadium back in October. No one said a thing.

Peyton got off to a so-so start in his return. Then there was the come-from-behind win against San Diego and the Broncos never looked back until what I like to call the “Denver Debacle” when the Broncos lost to Baltimore Ravens in double overtime in last year’s playoffs.

During his time in Indianapolis and even in those four games against Florida the media and fans always pointed and said it was always Peyton’s fault for the losses. That the world’s greatest quarterback still could not win the “Big Game.” Every time the Colts lost in the playoffs and my friends would put the blame on Manning. I actually would laugh at them as they would complain about Manning and his lack of playoff success.

I thought with a different team and it being the Broncos maybe this time things would be different. I bragged about how the Broncos were the better organization. How now in Denver with Elway, Manning would prove everyone wrong. He would win the big game and would lead Denver to its third Super Bowl.

After the loss last year my Indianapolis Colts friends were quick to point out that I now got to know how it felt having Peyton Manning as the quarterback of my team in the playoffs. That it was “karma” coming to me for all the years of cheering against Manning when he was at Tennessee and with the Colts.

This season began and the Broncos came to Indianapolis unbeaten. Irsay played his mind games just like Ol’ Spurrier did back in the day. The Broncos played horrible that night and lost. I remember some Colts fans around me at Lucas Oil saying “Same Old Peyton” at halftime and then at the end of the game.

With that game finally behind everyone the Broncos could get back to business and also the Colts and Indianapolis could finally become Andrew Luck’s town and this place could forget about PFM once and for all.

I have made the comment plenty of times on twitter and facebook – it has to suck to be Andrew Luck living the shadow of Manning. Much like Brian Griese and all the other quarterbacks who have followed Elway. It’s even worse though for Luck. Case in point when Luck makes a great play the radio announcers for the Colts even make comments like “…just like Peyton Manning used to do for the Colts.”

Seriously the announcers say it just like that.

Then Luck and the Colts made that improbable comeback against the Chiefs in the “Wild Card” round of the playoffs. I actually went to the grocery store on the Friday before last weekend’s playoff games wearing my Bronco gear and people this time actually snickered at me.

Unfortunately the Colts lost last Saturday night to New England in the divisional round. On the opposite side of it though if the Colts had won and the Broncos won on Sunday I would have to suffer through another week of Colts/Manning and I am not sure I could have handled living in Indianapolis and everyone wavering when the offense had the ball.

The Broncos played Sunday against the Chargers I joked with a friend who I go to church with I was setting the over/under of Peyton Manning jerseys (Colts, Broncos or halfsies) worn at church that Sunday at 8. We counted – 11!

Despite the record-setting season Manning has had I have tried to stay close to not getting too excited about the post season. It’s not only because of Manning and his lack of success in the playoffs but the Denver defense and how it has been decimated with injuries throughout the season and none more devastating than last Sunday’s loss of Chris Harris, Jr. to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Without Harris the Chargers were able to make a comeback that had all of us Bronco fans fearing “Denver Debacle II.” Fortunately PFM and the offense converted down the stretch and ran the clock out to preserve the win and a chance once again to face Manning’s arch nemesis – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

So here we are two of the greatest quarterbacks this century battling it out Sunday once again for a chance to play in the Super Bowl Feb. 2. Unlike the previous AFC Championship games Manning and Brady have faced each other I have a rooting interest this time.

I have no doubt it will be different for #18.

That’s because since March 19, 2012 PFM plays for the right team – the Denver Broncos!

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