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It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Peyton Manning Selected No. 1-Overall By Colts

Twenty years ago, on April 18, 1998, the Indianapolis Colts changed the course of their history when they picked quarterback Peyton Manning with the No. 1-overall selection in that year’s NFL Draft. Take a detailed look back at that historic day.


Editor's note: This article, written by former Colts PR executive and writer Craig Kelley, was originally published April 11, 2013.

INDIANAPOLIS – On draft day in 1998, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay walked the card bearing Peyton Manning's name to hand it to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Irsay and a small contingent flew to New York because he wanted to be on hand to ceremoniously bury the ghost of John Elway, who the club drafted and traded in 1983.

What followed was a succession of quarterbacks over the next 15 years, none of whom experienced a run of extended success.

Before he departed on the Friday prior to the draft, Irsay told Bill Polian he would call upon landing in New York just to confirm the pick remained Manning.

Manning and Washington's State Ryan Leaf were the two top touted quarterbacks in the draft, and the Colts had huddled all spring doing the appropriate background work.

The Colts' research team included Jim Mora, the head coach; Tom Moore, the offensive coordinator; Polian and many persons from the scouting department. The assessments involved campus workouts, personal interviews and film sessions until all parties grew bleary-eyed.

The group watched pass-after-pass thrown by both collegians, plus the club even paid former San Francisco Head Coach Bill Walsh for his evaluation of Manning and Leaf.

History now has created separation between Manning and Leaf, but it was not quite as clear cut with Indianapolis on the clock.

"Oh, no, not by any means," Polian said. "Many people today who are commenting on what occurred then have gotten amnesia. They forget that entering the draft process, Ryan Leaf was by far the favorite.

"Peyton Manning had not won the Heisman Trophy, was denigrated in many circles as not being a winner, having a weak arm and being a, quote, 'product of the system.' I still don't know what that means."

Indianapolis had done its homework and felt nearly from the outset that Manning would be the choice.

The pick would be replacing Jim Harbaugh, the club's starter since 1994. Harbaugh had grown into one of the fan favorites during the Indianapolis era.

The defense was bereft of noteworthy play-makers, thus the club likely could endure a spate of losses.  Emotional stability under such circumstances would be necessary, a point stressed by Walsh.

Indeed, Manning endured more losses (13) in 1998 than in eight years of high school and college action combined.

"It (the choice of Manning) was by no means sure," said Polian. "We went ahead and went through an exhaustive process of investigation on both players – an analysis of every pass they threw in their college careers. In the end, while we acknowledged that Ryan had great physical tools, there was really little separation between the two on the physical side. As a matter of fact, Peyton had the stronger arm.

"Then you came down to trying to judge the intangibles. Although it took a long time to get there, overwhelmingly Peyton was much more ready to come in and play, lead a franchise and take on the burden of being a quarterback in the NFL."

Irsay phoned Polian as his ride was entering the Lincoln Tunnel. Polian confirmed one final time that Manning was the man.

Irsay emerged from the tunnel and his team soon was to ascend into elite status behind the play of Manning and a talented supporting cast. Irsay handed in the card the next day, cementing a new future for a proud franchise.

On April 18, 1998, Peyton Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the first pick of the NFL Draft. Here is a look back at Peyton's Draft day and highlights from his 1998 season with the Colts!

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