Indianapolis Examines Its Football Identity

Indianapolis is hosting the Super Bowl this Sunday where the Patriots will face the Giants. Indianapolis' home team, the Colts, had a miserable season and now the franchise is at a crossroads.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. In Sunday's Super Bowl in Indianapolis, New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning will lead his team against the New England Patriots.

CORNISH: To be clear, it's Eli, not Manning's older brother, Peyton, who seems to be getting all the attention these days. He's the beloved quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.

BLOCK: Now, it makes a certain kind of sense for Peyton Manning to command some attention with the big game in his team's hometown, but NPR's Tom Goldman reports it's not the kind of attention he or his fans want.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: So far, in Super Bowl central, Indianapolis, it's advantage Indianapolis. Waves of fans wearing Colts blue and white jerseys have invaded downtown, far outnumbering the visitors wearing Patriots and Giants stuff. Call it Midwest pride, Midwest anger. Our team didn't make it to the big game, but our jerseys did.

Or perhaps call it Peyton power. Tons of number 18 Manning jerseys. Those wearing other players' numbers, like Allison Surd(ph) from Indianapolis, still have Manning on the mind.

ALLISON SURD: I miss him. I miss, you know, those perfect throws. He is like the image of Indy. You know, he's the Colts. We can't - it sucks without him.

GOLDMAN: An entire season without Manning has been disorienting for Colts fans after 13 straight years with him. Eleven of those years, he led the Colts to the playoffs, to the Super Bowl twice, to a Super Bowl victory in 2007. All the superlative numbers have come down to one bulky neck. Manning had three cervical disc surgeries in less than two years and even loyal fans on the streets of Indy this week are taking a businesslike approach.

Jason Rebbick(ph) is a surgical assistant from Indianapolis.

JASON REBBICK: It's sad to say that the Peyton era is coming to an end. He's getting old. We need to start making some decisions now so we can get, you know, the next person to take over prepared and winning games as soon as we possibly can.

GOLDMAN: Manning's future has dominated the sport's pundit verse, as well. Here's NFL insider Gil Brandt on a recent podcast.

GIL BRANDT: My gut feeling is that we've probably seen the last of Peyton.

GOLDMAN: Your thoughts, Peyton?

PEYTON MANNING: Everybody wants to make predictions and I understand that.

GOLDMAN: Do you?

MANNING: In a lot of ways, I don't understand it. They make these predictions about my future without, you know, really knowing all the details, so...

GOLDMAN: Manning was light on details in his interview with ESPN this week. He feels really good, he says. His doctors aren't giving away much, either, so let's go to the next best thing, those who know the ins and outs of ACDF, the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure Manning had.

Dr. Joseph Maroon, team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has performed the procedure on 14 elite athletes in recent years, including NFL players.

JASON MAROON: And all of them have been able to get back to play, quite frankly.

GOLDMAN: Dr. Neel Anand, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Cedars Sinai Hospital in L.A., says the surgery is not the issue. It's whether Manning's nerves damaged by the disc problem can regenerate fully.

NEEL ANAND: At his level of play and his level of demands and his function, he's going to need every cell working for him.

GOLDMAN: And how long for a nerve to fully recover?

ANAND: We usually say that it can take up to two years.

GOLDMAN: Which means Manning has some time, although maybe not with the Colts. He's due to get a whopping $28 million bonus in early March. If the team doesn't pay, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The Colts have the first pick in the college draft with star quarterback-in-waiting Andrew Luck there for the picking. Lots to discuss. A meeting between Manning and Colts owner, Jim Irsay, looms next week, after the Super Bowl.

Remember the Super Bowl? Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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