INDIANAPOLIS —Two days before the 1998 NFL Draft, Bill Polian and Jim Mora let Peyton Manning in on a big secret.
The Indianapolis Colts had the No. 1-overall pick that year, and Manning was going to be their guy.
Delighted, the University of Tennessee star quarterback had a couple immediate questions for his future general manager and head coach: When can I pick up my playbook, and can I wear No. 18?
Manning would end up receiving his playbook a couple days after the draft, but the jersey number issue was a little more complex.
See, Manning wore No. 16 for the Volunteers, so the Colts had already prepared a jersey with that number for Manning to wear when he was announced as the No. 1 pick on stage at New York City's Madison Square Garden.
But Manning wanted to wear No. 18 as a tribute to both his father, Archie, who wore the number at Ole Miss, and his brother Cooper, who also wore No. 18 as a standout wide receiver in high school before a spinal condition ended his playing career.
While No. 18 wasn't available for Peyton at Tennessee, he hoped the Colts would be able to honor his request.
"They got with Jon Scott and the equipment guys and they flew in a No. 18 jersey up in New York," Manning recalled recently in an interview with WTHR’s Dave Calabro. "So I had a 'Manning 18' jersey at the draft, got a great picture with Jim Irsay and Commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue and my family."
And thus, the Peyton Manning era — the greatest 14 years in Indianapolis Colts history — was underway.
This weekend, not only will "The Sheriff" see his No. 18 officially retired by the Colts organization, but the team will also unveil a Manning statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as induct the record-setting quarterback into its Ring of Honor.
Manning says he's "very humbled and honored" by the weekend's ceremonies.
"That means a great deal to me," he said. "It doesn't happen very often. I have a great appreciation for how unique it is. … You hear Jim Irsay talk about the Horseshoe; it is iconic, everybody knows what it means. So I was proud to wear the horseshoe, and was proud to wear No. 18."
Few professional athletes in the history of the National Football League have been as beloved in their home cities as Manning has been — and always will be — in Indianapolis.
Cool pics of Peyton Manning.
On the field, Manning was both surgeon and gunslinger. He was thrown into the fire his first year in 1998, tossing an NFL rookie record 28 interceptions in a 3-13 season for the Colts. But it took just one year to turn 3-13 into 13-3, as double-digit win seasons, division titles and playoff runs became the norm in basketball-crazy Indianapolis, which was slowly building momentum as a football town.
That distinction was solidified in the 2006 season, when Manning led the Colts to their first Super Bowl title in Indy, a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.
"To be able to truly witness a transformation of this town from being a great sports town, but football being a little lower on the priority list compared to basketball and car racing … and now this is the most jersey-wearing town during gameday," said Manning, who was named Super Bowl XLI's Most Valuable Player. "They love football, high school football is a bigger thing. Just to kind of be a part of that transformation, I'm not sure that's not one of the things that me and my teammates during that era are most proud of."
By the time Manning retired following the 2015 season, he had broken just about every major record by a quarterback in NFL history: career passing touchdowns (539) and passing yards (71,940); single-season passing touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477); wins (201, including playoffs); game-winning drives (56); comeback wins (45); four-plus touchdown passes in a game (35); 4,000-plus yard passing seasons (14); consecutive seasons with at least 25 passing touchdowns (13); and most Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player awards (5; 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013).
'Integral part' of the community
And while Manning's on-field status is legendary, his legacy off the field is perhaps even greater.
In 1999, Manning and his wife, Ashley, established his PeyBack Foundation to "promote the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk." Since that time, the foundation has provided more than $13 million in grants and programs.
In Indianapolis, Manning became a regular at St. Vincent's Children Hospital, and in 2007, the facility was renamed the "Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent."
Tony Dungy, Manning's head coach with the Colts from 2002 through 2008, said Manning's accomplishments off the field alone merit a statue in his honor.
"I got here in Year 5 of Peyton's time here, and he had done quite a bit at that time on the field — and off," said Dungy, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. "But that last decade he was here, the things that he did off the field, to me, even surpassed the championships and the records on the field. So to recognize that, that here's a guy that, yes, played great football for us, but was such a part of this community — and such an integral part. I think it's awesome."
But in typical Peyton Manning fashion, he used his famous dry sense of humor to put this weekend's statue dedication ceremony into perspective.
"I'm not totally comfortable with it," he said with a smile. "As I was telling somebody, I keep checking my health to be sure — I didn't know you could still be alive and see a statue of you. I've had a few physicals — everything's checking out. But I'm appreciative of Jim's tribute, his generosity.
"I cherish my time here — the fans, the community. It's such an important part of my life, because everybody was a part of my career here, and they really embraced me, they welcomed me and my family," Manning continued. "I'll always be indebted to the folks of Indiana for that."