Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning Says Opening Week Still Special After 13 Seasons
INDIANAPOLIS – Most of Peyton Manning's thoughts are on the Houston Texans.
Still, Manning – the Colts' 13-year veteran quarterback and one of the NFL's elite players during the last decade – said during at least parts of this week, there is a bit of another thought. It is, after all, the opening week of the regular season.
Even for a player with four NFL MVPS, Manning said that makes it special.
And it makes it something to be savored.
"I've always gotten excited for opening day," Manning said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (14-2 last season) prepared to play the Texans (9-7) in an AFC South game at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's a new season. It's a new team. You have new players and you're kind of forming a new identity."
The Colts, who have made the post-season an NFL-best eight consecutive seasons, have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, advancing to the Super Bowl two of the past four seasons.
"This is what it's all about," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "From the end of the Super Bowl last year to now, this is what you prepare for – for Week 1, and setting a tempo for the season and for your team."
The Colts return a veteran team, with all but one starter from the Super Bowl – guard Ryan Lilja – still on the roster of a team that has won 12 or more games an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons. Indianapolis also is the NFL's winningest team since 1999, and much of the success has been built on the strength of one of the NFL's best early-season records in recent seasons.
The Colts have started 5-0 or better in five of the last seven seasons, winning the AFC South each of those seasons. They began 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006, 7-0 in 2007 and 14-0 last season.
"You want to try to start it off on the right foot," Manning said. "We've won on opening day. We've gotten beat on opening day."
Manning said as imant as winning the regular-season opener is "establishing the team you want to be."
"You want to establish your tempo," Manning said. "There are some things we want to accomplish."
The Colts since 2002 have a 6-2 record in regular-season openers, with the losses coming in 2004 against defending Super Bowl champion New England and in 2008 against Chicago in the first game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The loss to the Bears came after Manning missed the preseason recovering from knee surgery.
This year's opener is against a Texans team that has played the Colts close the last several meetings. The Colts are 15-1 in the all-time series, which began when the Texans entered the NFL in 2002, and Indianapolis has won the last six meetings. Houston's lone victory in the series came in December 2006.
The Texans finished 9-7 last season, their first winning record in franchise history, and hopes are high within the team and in the community.
"Without a doubt, this is our best team," Texans owner Bob McNair told FoxSportsHouston.com recently. "I have to be more optimistic than I have been previously."
McNair called the regular-season opener "a good measuring stick."
"It's a very important game," McNair said. "Is it the end of the world if we don't win it? No, because we've got 15 other games, but I think it'll be a good indication as to how much we've matured."
The Colts have trailed by 17 points in each of their last two games in Houston, rallying to win 35-27 last season and 31-27 two seasons ago. In 2008, the Colts trailed 27-10 before scoring 21 points in the final 4:04.
"It's a heck of a challenge – going to Houston, it's always a tough place to play," Manning said. "We've had some extremely close games down there, and we're playing a really good football team. They have new players since last year, and they played really good in their third preseason game against Dallas. . . .
"It was kind of a young team a couple of years ago, but they've played a lot together and they've really turned into more of a veteran team. And their offense is excellent."
Said Saturday, "Those are games for the memory. We've had some fantastic games. I'd sure like to make them less interesting at the end of the game. They can be fun at the beginning, but let's try to put them away and be smiling a little in the fourth quarter instead of holding our breath and clutching for the win."
Sunday's game is the Colts' first season opener on the road since 2006, with the Colts opening on the road the six seasons before that, but Manning said the venue is less important, and that opening day is special wherever you play. And he said no matter the venue, it's still indeed something to savor.
"We've played on the road, it seems like, more than we have at home, although we've been at home the last couple of years," Manning said. "It's an awesome atmosphere every time we've played opening day. You always take a minute to remind yourself that you do feel lucky to be playing in the NFL.
"Certainly in my 13th year – each year I feel more and more lucky.'
The Colts on Wednesday also announced the team has claimed offensive lineman Joe Reitz off waivers from Miami, while offensive tackle Tony Ugoh has been waived-injured.
Reitz (6-7, 320), a Fishers, Ind. native, is a second-year veteran who originally signed as a free agent with Baltimore in 2008 out of Western Michigan.