Meaningful return ahead for Peyton Manning

THIBODAUX — Circle Oct. 20th. That will be a red-letter day in the NFL.

That’s when Peyton Manning, in a “Sunday Night Football” headliner, returns to Indianapolis, where he quarterbacked the Colts for 14 years and staked the team to eight divisional titles, two AFC championships and a Super Bowl crown. It will be like the return of a conquering hero. The town will be in a tizzy.

But Manning will be wearing an orange jersey instead of Indy’s blue. The standard by which all Colts quarterbacks will be judged after passing for 54,828 yards in 13 seasons, Manning was released by his old club in 2012 after sitting out 2011 in the aftermath of neck surgery and weakened arm strength. Indianapolis was 2-14 while he was out.

Now he’s the reigning Comeback Player of the Year after a spectacular return season with the Denver Broncos. Manning jockeyed his new team to a 13-3 record, throwing for 4,654 yards.

His successor under center for the Colts, Andrew Luck, had similar success, taking Indianapolis to an unexpected 11-5 record while passing for a rookie record 4,374 yards.

It all makes for an intriguing midseason matchup, you would think.

“I’ll deal with that when that weekend gets here,” Manning said coolly Friday at the Manning Passing Academy, the skilled players instructional get-together founded and run by the Manning family (father Archie and brothers Eli, Cooper and Peyton) at Nicholls State University for the past 18 years. Approximately 1,200 boys from across the country are participating this year.

Luck was a camper and later a counselor, including last year. He was scheduled to help coach this year but was a no-show. Other NFL quarterbacks on hand to instruct the youngsters were Philip Rivers of San Diego, Sam Bradford of St. Louis and Matthew Stafford of Detroit.

Manning said he had no specific recollection of teaching Luck or of him standing out in any way. He pointed out that this is not a just a camp for blue-chip athletes but mainly also to improve the skill sets of the average high school player. Archie, though, said he did remember Luck, whose father was an NFL teammate three decades ago.

“Andrew first came to our camp as an eighth-grader,” the elder Manning remembered. “He was a good-looking thrower.”

The 2012 Colts’ 11 victories under Luck were the most by a rookie quarterback drafted No. 1 in NFL history, and his five game-winning drives set the standard for a first-year QB. He also threw for the most yards of any rookie.

Luck and Manning, destined to go down as one of the greatest of all time with (so far) four MVP awards and 13 seasons of 4,000 or more passing yards, have far more in common than immediately meets the eye. Both were No. 1 draft choices by the Colts. Both stayed in school to play an extra college season instead of entering the draft. (Luck even called Manning to talk over his experience.) And both were Heisman Trophy runners-up.

So it seems reasonable for the pair to keep up with each other and for Manning to see how his old team is doing. Does he take a peek at stories about the Colts and Luck each week?

“No more than any other team,” he said. “I have a lot on my plate every single Sunday.”