INDIANAPOLIS – The drafting of Peyton Manning on April 18, 1998 was such a momentous occasion that Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay personally handed the draft card to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Irsay traveled to New York for draft day in 1998 for the specific purpose of turning in the card bearing the name of the Colts' first-round draft pick so he could ceremoniously bury the ghost of John Elway and to establish a new day for his organization.
It was mission accomplished for Irsay on that day and for the next 14 years.
Irsay sought to rectify the quarterback position that had troubled his team for years, a situation he tried various ways to solve time and time again.
After the franchise traded Elway to Denver, it employed a succession of starting quarterbacks. Upon arriving in Indianapolis in 1984, the team had 16 different starting signal-callers until Irsay handed in the fateful draft card bearing Manning's name.
The lack of continuity was not for lack of effort. The team drafted Mike Pagel and Art Schlichter. It traded for Gary Hogeboom and drafted Jack Trudeau in 1986. Chris Chandler was the club's top selection in 1988, and hometown product Jeff George was taken with the first overall selection in the 1990 draft after Irsay orchestrated a blockbuster trade with Atlanta. Indianapolis signed Jim Harbaugh as a free agent in 1994, then traded for Craig Erickson in 1995. Only Chandler (10-6) and Erickson (2-1) were able to earn a winning starting record with the Colts, and it was Harbaugh who Manning replaced in the starting lineup.
That draft day in New York had a dizzying pace. After Manning's name was read by Tagliabue at Madison Square Garden, he was put through a two-hour interview schedule before departing for Indianapolis. There, he would have only 45 minutes at the club's headquarters to meet the coaches and complete his local media obligations before leaving for Tennessee, where his jersey was being retired by the university that evening. Timing was critical.
As the plane carrying Irsay and members of the Manning family approached Indianapolis, air traffic controllers informed pilots there would be a delay in landing. Calling his first-ever NFL audible, Manning took the mike to explain the situation. The plane was cleared to land immediately.
The Colts were cleared to fly.
Manning helped take the Colts to heights previously achieved in earlier decades. He became the most notable athlete ever to play locally. He likely became the most global athlete who played in the state of Indiana, and he arguably achieved more for the organization than any player who wore the Horseshoe.
The Colts wish Manning and his family every future happiness. It was a special time.