INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning grabbed hold of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, almost in a look of awe as he reflected on his first-ever championship season.
No, this wasn't a re-run of the Super Bowl XLI postgame celebration in Miami almost a decade ago; it was the scene that unfolded Sunday, as that great Colts team returned to Indianapolis to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that magical run.
Dozens of former players, coaches and team officials from that great Super Bowl team were on hand throughout the weekend in Indianapolis, most taking part in a festive party on Saturday night at the Colts' facility before returning on Sunday to be recognized in a special halftime ceremony, in which the team was honored by team owner Jim Irsay and his family — not to mention the 65,000-plus fans in the stands, who didn't dare leave their seats to miss this special moment.
"They can never take it away; it's permanent," Manning told reporters, echoing Irsay's comment about the Super Bowl title during the halftime ceremony. "It's a bond unlike any other, this particular group."
That bond was apparent from the moment the former team members greeted each other at the party on Saturday, and then continued to tell old stories before, during and after the game on Sunday.
Colts great center Jeff Saturday said the emotions of the day hit him just before the team took the field at halftime. As the former Colts team members lined up in the tunnel — just as they had done so many times in years past — Saturday said he could hear chants of, "Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!" coming from the stands, just like he had heard hundreds of times before for wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"The Reggie chant started away as we were walking out, and that brings back those memories of Sunday afternoons and getting ready to go," Saturday said. "As you are walking out and watching the guys who are playing right now (you're) realizing how fortunate you were to be around these men and these relationships."
Manning, Saturday, Wayne and 2006 team captain Gary Brackett conducted a press conference together after the halftime ceremony, and all agreed that while the in-game moments from that 2006 season won't soon be forgotten — and there are a lot of them — it's oftentimes the moments away from the field that are cherished the most.
"People don't believe me, they say, 'Do you miss it?' I mean, I miss more than anything, the guys; you miss the guys and being around them every day, but I really don't miss being on the field because I kind of left it all out there," said Manning, who retired last season after winning his second-career Super Bowl title, this time with the Denver Broncos. "I did it for a long time but the relationships are the greatest part of my 18 years of playing pro ball. There is not a game or a throw that was the greatest part for me, it was the relationships and fortunately those are never taken away, those are permanent so I feel very fortunate."
Highlights from the Colts Super Bowl XLI halftime reunion.
Even the current Colts team found itself inspired by the 2006 team's presence, as Indianapolis jumped out to a 21-0 lead and would end up defeating the Titans, 24-17.
Perhaps a speech made by Brackett and others the night before the game put things in perspective for the 2016 Colts team, which also hopes to make major noise down the stretch as it fights for a spot in the playoffs.
"We had an opportunity to speak to the team yesterday and talk about how special 2006 was and how much everyone meant to everyone," Brackett said. "Special time, special team. It is great to be back and celebrating with everybody."
As for Wayne, he just couldn't help himself: he had to get the crowd going and return to his old corner in the end zone at the end of Sunday's halftime ceremony.
"I always went to that corner and they've always supported me and the Colts, and I just wanted to give it to them" Wayne said. "They are special. That is what makes it special, that is what you miss. We played games and did all that stuff, but the fans and the support that they have always given us, that is what makes this even more special."
And, like he did with the offensive playcalling so successfully in his legendary career in Indy, Manning led the way with a terrific suggestion for the future of this great 2006 Super Bowl champion team.
"We really did kind of have the band back together," Manning said. "And hopefully do it in another 10 years."