It was a bittersweet symphony for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning upon his return to Indianapolis.
On one hand, Manning was feted by the hometown Colts -- where he played and launched the franchise's fortunes into the stratosphere from 1998-2011 -- with a pregame video tribute and then a heartfelt two-minute standing ovation from Colts fans. He reciprocated with an emotional wave to the crowd in a touching moment for the one-time franchise quarterback and his army of fans.
On the other hand, Manning hates to lose, and lose he and his Broncos did on Sunday as the Colts earned a 39-33 victory.
It was a range of emotions for Manning, who was released by the Colts in March 2012, but who has kept his place in NFL prominence by leading the Broncos to an unbeaten record prior to Sunday's loss.
First there was the tribute. The Colts created a brief pregame tribute to Manning on the Lucas Oil Stadium video board. It was about a minute long and finished with Manning holding the trophy after the Colts won Super Bowl XLVI after the 2006 season.
The soldout crowd at the stadium gave Manning a near-two-minute long standing ovation. He acknowledged their appeciation with an emotional wave to the crowd.
"It was very nice. It was a very nice gesture by the Colts to do that. I truly appreciate it and it was a great reception from the fans. I appreciate that too. It's something I'll always remember. I'm very grateful for it. It was a special moment to have," Manning said.
Manning completed 29 of 49 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The statistics were gaudy per usual, but Manning also struggled at times.
Some of Manning's passes went long or sailed on him. Denver went three-and-out three times at a crucial point in the third quarter when the Colts' lead ballooned to 33-14 at one point.
Manning was also hit frequently by a lively Colts pass rush. He was sacked four times and had a costly fumble when former teammate Robert Mathis hit him on the goal line which forced a second quarter safety.
"It was a good hit, but I can't say that it did [affect Manning], but it was a healthy one," said Manning on Mathis's hit.
Manning said he came back from the pregame emotions quickly and was ready to play. He also admitted that the hype and the emotional pull of the return was a grind.
"I felt tired coming into this week. In some ways, I'm somewhat relieved that it's over. I hope we get the chance to play these guys again in the playoffs. If there's a next time, maybe it's easier because it was somewhat of an emotional week. It can be a little bit draining. I can say that," Manning said.
Current Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed 21 of 38 passes for 228 yards and three touchdown passes, took notice of Manning.
"He's unbelievable. He throws the ball incredibly well and he's always in control in the moment. It wasn't so fun to watch him, but a little part of you watches and knows its incredible," Luck said.
Manning had plenty of contact with his former colleagues, including Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose controversial comments about Manning in the run-up to the game, were perceived as disrespectful by some regarding his franchise quarterback. Irsay intimated that he made a change so the Colts could be in a position to win more than the one Super Bowl they won on Manning's watch.
""We communicated late [last] week. I think I can most past that. I can't speak for others. I don't see that being a lasting [thing]. Jim Irsay was the one who called for that tribute, I appreciated that very much and I let him know so. But the game was disappointing for us," Manning said.
Manning most enjoyed seeing some of his former teammates. He saw former Colts offensive linemen Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem on the eve of the game. Former Colts greats Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James visited Manning in the pregame locker room and took part in the pregame activities.
"I saw Edgerrin and Marvin and I had a good visit with them and Jeff Saturday at the hotel last night. I don't get to see those guys enough so I really enjoyed the time I had to spend with those guys. I'm disappointed about the loss, but you have to take time to visit with those old teammates. It's special."
It was a bittersweet symphony for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning upon his return to Indianapolis.
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