Ode To Eli Manning

Photo: Sarah Stier/Getty

As a Colts fan, I was lucky enough to have Peyton Manning as my quarterback.

The fact that he had a little brother who also played in the NFL was a bonus. 

When the Colts played in primetime (which they did a lot during the Peyton Manning era), I always watched the Giants during the earlier games. Eli was a lot like Peyton, but he was also a lot unlike him – and I appreciated both aspects of Peyton and Cooper’s baby brother.

As the youngest of three boys, it would be easy to paint yourself in their likeness. But Eli never did that. He was unapologetically himself – before he came into the NFL and after. 

I always think about what players teach young people by how they conduct themselves on and off the field. Eli was always a guy you could point to and say, “Be like him” – hardworking, humble, kind, and he never took himself too seriously.

As the years went on, the younger brother of my quarterback started to feel like my young brother. I was always looking out for him, defending him against his critics, and cheering for him on gameday. 

When Eli won his first Super Bowl, I couldn’t have been prouder – especially because it was against our arch rivals, the New England Patriots. I remember at the time saying the only way I could have been happier would have been watching my own team win – which I did the season before. 

In a stunning fourth quarter drive, Eli led the Giants to victory with a third down throw that David Tyree somehow took to the ground against his helmet (now referred to as the helmet catch). 

Not only did the Giants beat the Patriots, they ruined their quest for a perfect season – allowing the 1972 Dolphins to pop the champagne bottles once again, as the only NFL team in history to go undefeated all season.   

But it was Eli’s second Super Bowl that we Colts fans owe him a debt of gratitude for.

I’ll set the scene for you, in case you’ve forgotten. 

It was February of 2012 and Indianapolis was hosting the Super Bowl. Peyton was out all season with a neck injury and uncertainty about his future was rampant. Led by a cast of quarterbacks including Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky, the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and speculation about their future swirled amongst the festivities. 

In town to play in Super Bowl XLVI? The New York Giants – and the New England Patriots.

As the big game neared, I looked forward to Sunday with a sense of dread. For years, we speculated about the possibility of a Manning Bowl. But instead of my Colts taking the field against the Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was the Patriots. The thought of the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Lucas Oil Stadium was unbearable, yet all too real. 

There was only one man who could save us from this fate – Eli Manning. 

Once again, a brilliant fourth quarter drive by Eli and this time, a game winning touchdown by Ahmad Bradshaw, and the Giants defeated the Patriots once again – saving Colts fans from a fate worse than death.

I’ve always thought the Colts should honor Eli Manning by hanging his jersey somewhere in Lucas Oil Stadium. Maybe now that he’s retired, someone will make it happen.  

At the very least, Eli Manning shouldn’t pay for a drink in Indianapolis for the rest of his life. And for that matter, neither should his brother. Hell, the entire Manning family should drink for free in Indy. 

Thank you, Eli – for inspiring us on and off the field, for defeating our enemy (once on our soil), and for just being you. Because we never needed you to be anything but that. 

It makes me incredibly sad to know that for the first time in 22 years, I won’t see a Manning throwing a football in the NFL this season. 

It’s the end of an era – for now.

But I hold onto hope – that Cooper’s son, Arch, will end the drought we’re about to endure.

As Peyton said, “Nothing lasts forever.” 

But memories do. 

Thanks for giving us so many to cherish over the years. 

Good luck, God bless, and long live the Mannings.  

Dear Andrew Luck,

Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts

Dear Andrew Luck, 

I hope you know that watching you play at Stanford your senior year got me through that 2-14 Colts season. To me, you were a Colt before you ever put on the uniform. 

I hope you know that the day you walked through the door, I knew everything was going to get better. 

I hope you know that embracing you healed my heart after the Peyton Manning breakup – something I didn’t think was possible at the time. 

I hope you know that when Peyton returned as a Bronco and you led the Colts to a win, you also won the city.

I hope you know that watching you be unapologetically yourself only made us love you more. 

I hope you know that I was your teammate off the field – I always had your back, I always defended you, and I always took up for you.  

I hope you know that even from my seat, I was trying to protect you on game day. 

I hope you know how proud I always was to call you my quarterback.

I hope you know that watching you light up the faces of sick children brought just as much joy to me as it did to them. 

I hope you know that seeing you hurt, struggling, and sad stole some of my happiness as well.  

I hope you know that the people who booed when you left the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for the last time don’t represent the majority of Colts fans.

I hope you know that the future success of this team is something you helped build. 

I hope you know that the legacy you leave behind is so much bigger than football.

I hope you know that the best thing you can do for us now is to move on, live your life, and be happy.

I hope you know that no matter where you go and no matter what you do, I’ll be cheering for you – and not just on Sundays.

I hope Indianapolis is always your home. And even if it’s not, I hope it always feels like home.

Thanks for the memories, Andrew. 

I wish you love, luck, and happiness in the next chapter of life.  

To The NFL Wives

Life changes fast in football. One week, you’re on top of the world. The next week, you don’t even recognize your world.

In the NFL, change is inevitable. Even the team that wins the Super Bowl is never the same – coaches leave, players move on, it’s all part of the game.

My heart goes out to all of those men, their families, and of course, their wives.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of the Colts wives over the years. They’re impressive women in their own right – tough, smart, loving, and strong – they lean on each other and support their husbands, their families, and their team. These women hold down the fort, raise the children, and manage their lives while their husbands work long hours away from home.

It takes a special kind of woman to sign up for a football life. Just like their husbands, they eat, sleep, and breathe the game. Every win gives them a little more comfort and every loss leaves them wondering if changes will come.

“Don’t feel bad for us,” they say. “It’s what we signed up for.” They’re blessed with a lifestyle and privileges few enjoy. They know it and they’ll be the first to tell you – but that’s not what drives them.

The women I know are motivated by love for their husbands. They’re dedicated wives who put on a happy face so he has one less thing to worry about at the end of the day. They’re devoted mothers who carry on so their kids can have a normal childhood, even though they secretly worry about the next move and the uncertainty it brings.

The NFL is a small world and a big family.

As coaches and players move on, I wish them all the best. I’m grateful for the time they spent with us and everything they brought to our team and our community. And I know I’ll cross paths with them again some day.

But most of all, I’m glad to know they’ve got the women they have beside them every step of the way.

United We Stand – Divided We Fall

Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts


Sunday was a day like no other in the National Football League.

I was standing on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium when a news alert came across my phone. The Pittsburgh Steelers would stay in the locker room during the National Anthem.

Stunned and heartsick, I looked around our stadium as the fans began to fill the seats wondering what the day would hold.

I was still on the field when the National Anthem began. As I stood watching, a chorus of boos broke out. At first, I was shocked. Who would boo during the anthem? I looked down the field and saw Browns players on one knee. I didn’t find out until afterwards that there were Colts players kneeling as well.

When I finished gathering my stories and made it up to my seat, my mom was teary. Not because of the players who took a knee, but because of the boos that rained down from above.

“I never thought I would hear booing during our National Anthem,” she said.

And neither did I.

Sports are a reflection of society and this is where we are – more divided than ever. And not just on the football field.

How many neighbors quit talking to each other after the last election? How many families can’t discuss politics around the dinner table? The NFL is a family. And just like your family, different people have different opinions about what’s happening in our country and our world.

We didn’t arrive here overnight and we won’t fix it overnight. But one thing is clear – we have to stop looking for someone to bring us together. We’ve been doing that for too long – and in the process, we’re only being pulled farther and farther apart.

Some people watched Sunday’s game and saw a team and a fan base divided. I saw a team that linked arms in support of each other, some players standing, some kneeling, and then went out and worked together to win a football game – while the fans cheered them on.

As a society, we need to find a way to do the same thing. It’s up to us to come together. And maybe, just maybe – like it has so many times, football can help us do that.

We’re going to have different leaders and different players, tides will turn, games will change and so will the times.

But at the end of the day, we’re all we’ve got.

There’s a lot of noise out there right now.

Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts

But the sound I heard loudest on Sunday was the voice of a fan base cheering on their team.

And that’s a pretty good start.

Dear Peyton

Dear Peyton,

I’m sitting in my seat overlooking an empty field at Lucas Oil Stadium. We just finished a promotional shoot for the Letters To Peyton campaign and it occurred to me that I hadn’t written my letter to you – and I should have been the first to do it, because I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for you.

I went to my first Colts game in September of 2004. I was new to Indianapolis and my husband (my boyfriend at the time) was a longtime season ticket holder. I grew up a Vikings fan in Minnesota, so I was thrilled to see the Colts beat the Green Bay Packers that day. I could hardly wait for November, when the Vikings came to the RCA Dome to play the Colts on Monday Night Football. What I didn’t know then, was that by the time that game came around, I would already be a Colts fan. That’s how quickly you won me over.

Watching you throw the football to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, I became your biggest fan and your toughest defender. While Jeff Saturday protected you from the front, I had your back.

Through the celebratory victories and the agonizing defeats, the Colts became my team, Indianapolis became my city, and the fans became my people. During that time, my boyfriend also became my husband. I don’t necessarily credit the Colts with that, but it probably didn’t hurt.

Those years were special – not only because of the success you had on the field, but because of the success we enjoyed off the field because of it. What you did for our city, our state, and the game of football was unprecedented.

Then suddenly, unpredictably, it was over.

I couldn’t quite grasp how I felt when you and the Colts parted ways. It was hard to even talk about it, so I did what I do best – and wrote. I started a blog, started another one, and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was like therapy for me – and what I discovered, was that it was also therapy for others. And when you came back to play the Colts as a Bronco, I wrote a story on my conflicted heart. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one – because it went viral. Football fans all over the world could feel my pain. I gained an audience and bonded with them through the joy and heartache of being a fan.

A few years later, the Colts started a blog, Colts Roundup. And guess who they brought in to write it? Now starting my third season with the team, I’m living my dream. And it all started with you.

Thank you, Peyton, for everything – the wins, the losses, the playoff games, the Super Bowls, and every amazing memory we made along the way.

I look forward to seeing your statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium and your name permanently inscribed inside it.

A fitting tribute to a man who changed the landscape of a city and the lives of so many – myself included.

Sincerely,

Heather Lloyd

To submit your letter to Peyton Manning, go to: http://www.colts.com/fanzone/contests-and-promotions/letters-to-peyton.html.