INDIANAPOLIS —As Jim Irsay put it, 'Sasquatch' was finally unveiled for the world to see Saturday afternoon.
More than 1 1/2 years after Irsay, the Colts' team owner and CEO, announced that the organization would be erecting a statue of its legendary quarterback, Peyton Manning, a very special group — a who's-who of those who know Manning best — as well as thousands of the greatest fans in football gathered around the plaza on the north end of Lucas Oil Stadium to honor "The Sheriff" and to see his new bronze likeness.
And after a collection of distinguished speakers — key legislators, football figures and even the Circle City's most famous former late-night talk show host — had their chance to say a few words about No. 18, Irsay stepped to the microphone to do the honors, asking that the big blue cover be removed from the statue for all to see.
At that moment, sculptor Ryan Feeney's breathtaking work — a project months and months and months in the making — saw the light of day for the first time ever.
It was a historic day both for the Colts and the city of Indianapolis, who will continue the ceremonies on Sunday, when Manning will see his No. 18 retired by the team and will also be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in a halftime ceremony during the Colts' game against the San Francisco 49ers.
With so much to take in on such a monumental day, let's take a look at some of the top moments from those who came to Indianapolis to honor their quarterback and their good friend, Peyton Manning:
• Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett:"We've all seen the legendary performances of Peyton both on and off the field, as a football player and as a commercial star. So let me offer you this — grants to Indianapolis from the PeyBack Foundation: $13 million. The Peyton Manning Children's Hospital: $50 million. The economic impact of a Super Bowl brought to our city by the 'Manning Effect:' $100 million. But 14 seasons with 'The Sheriff:' priceless."
• Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels: "For my part, I'll just point out that in today's world, sports, entertainment and big business — and it's getting hard to tell 'em apart — are full of people of incredible talent who you wouldn't want your kids to grow up like. For every day of his time in Indiana, Peyton Manning was a gentleman — what we used to call a 'man of character' — as great a citizen as he was a quarterback. There wasn't one moment, on the field or off, that he made us anything but proud."
• Former Colts general manager Bill Polian:"The Romans built statues to their heroes so that at a time that there was no mass communication, future generations would understand what the leaders of yesteryear did to make society great. But we have mass communication these days, but statues are still important. But I think that no statue, no stadium, no Lombardi trophy is needed to outline or remind people of what Peyton Manning did for this city or this franchise."
• Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy:"I was blessed to coach in the National Football League for 28 years. I ran across a lot of players who were great people; you don't hear about all the great things they do — we tend to focus on the negatives — but I ran across a lot of great young men in those 28 years. I ran across a few men who were exceptionally talented and gifted, and maybe the best of all time at what they do. But it's rare you run across one person with both those qualities: great in the community, great person and extremely gifted and talented, and that's Peyton Manning."
• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: "He is a total professional; determined to be the best he can be. In his 18 seasons, you know what Peyton delivered. No one has ever represented the game or the league with more class than Peyton Manning."
• Former Colts center Jeff Saturday:"You know, you hear all the stories about Peyton's work ethic and what drives him, and all of the things that you hear — film study, all of those things — and it's all true. But Peyton, more than anything, was a catalyst for a group of people and a team that took us to greatness. And you think about the Hall of Famers — you saw Tony (Dungy), you saw Bill (Polian), you know Marvin (Harrison) — future Hall of Famers on this football team — Reggie (Wayne) and Edgerrin (James) and different men who are going to have opportunities — but Peyton was the driving force that really made us great."
• Former Late Night host and Indianapolis native David Letterman:"My heart is always in Indiana. This man didn't do it alone, but by God he was at the center of it. Look around us: he changed the skyline — this used to be a small town; it was a wonderful small town — this man has changed the skyline of this city. … Brought a Super Bowl championship to this city. Brought the Super Bowl to this city. … Not only did he change the skyline of this city, he changed the personality and the culture of this city. More importantly, as somebody who was born and raised here, still has family here, still loves Indiana, still loves Indianapolis, he left an imprint — a lasting imprint, indelible imprint — an influence that will live forever on the heart of my hometown."
• Colts owner/CEO Jim Irsay:"I think as you look and you have the first pick in the draft, you hope to draft someone that's going to have greatness; that might make it to some Pro Bowls; that have a chance to get you into the playoffs; to even eventually win a world championship, and possibly even do more, and end up walking into Canton, Ohio, and maybe even have their jersey that was on their back never, never worn again. But to have a statue, to have this displayed in front of this incredible facility that that man built behind me … there's not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for our friendship and what he's meant to this city and to this state. He is an iconic football player that transcends football."
After the statue unveiling, the man of the weekend took to the mic to say a few words about this honor
"A huge thank you to Jim Irsay and the Irsay family," Manning said. "Your generosity putting this tribute together is nothing short of mind boggling. I am deeply, deeply humbled by the remarkable honor that the Colts family has bestowed upon me with the statue, retiring my number and inducting me into the legendary Colts Ring of Honor. There is simply no word to adequately express what this all means to me. Again, thank you Indianapolis, thank you Indiana. I am proud to have been a citizen of this town, and as I told the world a year and a half ago: I will always be a Colt."
MANNING - A Letter to Fans