Peyton Manning- The Man Who Changed Indiana's Sports Culture

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Winning two Super Bowl championships is no small achievement, but transforming a deeply-rooted basketball state into an enduring football fandom is a feat in itself.

Peyton Manning’s contribution to Indiana’s football culture was profound. Latest controversy aside, the heralded quarterback from the University of Tennessee joined the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and left fourteen years later as an iconic sports hero.

During his tenure with the Colts, Indianapolis switched from a basketball-entrenched community to a football-loving city.

Indiana’s sports narrative had always centered around the game of basketball. A 1954 state championship game between two Indiana high schools was the inspiration for the 1986 movie, “Hoosiers”. The Library of Congress even selected it for preservation to its National Film Registry.

Legendary coach Bobby Knight lit up college basketball when he led the Indiana Hoosiers to three NCAA titles- 1976, ‘81, ‘87. The 1976 squad is still the last NCAA men’s basketball team to go undefeated.

Reggie Miller’s arrival to the Indiana Pacers in 1987 elevated the state’s passion for hoops to the professional ranks. Quickly becoming the face of the franchise, Miller helped the Pacers become solid playoff contenders, culminating in an NBA Finals appearance in 2000.

But the historical roots that grounded the basketball scene in the Hoosier state came crashing down at the turn of the new millennium. Bobby Knight was fired in 2000 for unbecoming behavior towards players and students. From 1995-2001, the Hoosiers also failed to clinch the Sweet Sixteen after years of being regular fixtures at the NCAA tournament.

2004 saw Pacers forward Ron Artest ensnare his team in one of the ugliest fracas moments in NBA history, the “Malice in the Palace”. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season and missed 86 games, the most of any player in the league for an on-court incident.

The time was ripe for the Hoosier State to find a star in a different sport- Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

The New Orleans native breathed life into Indianapolis. Drafted in 1998, Manning struggled in his rookie year as the team went 3-13. But the following season witnessed a turnaround as the star quarterback flipped the chart to 13-3.

From 2000-2010, the Colts put on one the NFL’s most dominant stretches, placing second behind the New England Patriots and winning on average 11½ games per season.

Led by Manning and head coach Tony Dungy, the Colts brought Indianapolis its first Super Bowl trophy in 2006.

Evidence exists that the 14x Pro-Bowler turned Indy into a football city. A recent study by the Sports Innovation Institute at IUPUI indicates that the Colts and the NFL rank significantly higher among local fans than any team or league associated with basketball.

Even in aggregate, the state’s basketball votes- Pacers, Fever, IU, Butler, Purdue, Notre Dame- come short of the Colts football franchise.

Manning’s legacy was significant enough for his team to dedicate a bronze statue in his honor in October, 2017. The Colts also added his name to the “Ring of Honor” encircling Lucas Oil Stadium.

Though he later went on to win Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos, Manning left Indiana with an indelible football heritage.

David Pierce-  dpierce3@iupui.edu   linkedin.com/in/drdavidpierce   Brendan Wright-   https://www.linkedin.com/in/brendan-wright/   Sports Innovation Institute study- https://news.iu.edu/stories/2017/09/iupui/08-sports-innovation-institute-survey.html

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