So you just wonder: What do those around here think about The Interception and the legacy of their historically golden quarterback who was tarnished by it all? With the Colts driving in the final minutes for a game-tying touchdown, Peyton Manning was the anti-Joe Montana by firing toward teammate Reggie Wayne with one hand on the ball and the other around his throat.
That's me talking.
I sought the views of the Colt Nation, and this was interesting: Spanning from Monument Circle to Conseco Fieldhouse to Circle Center Mall to the area near the little race track that features 500 miles each May, a slew of folks alluded to the "c" word, but not for choke. They viewed The Interception as their version of a second gunman on the grassy knoll -- as in conspiracy.
Among the conspiracists, some said Manning threw The Interception on purpose to defensive back Tracy Porter who sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown to seal the Saints' 31-17 victory. Most said he threw it subconsciously.
Whatever the case, both sides said Manning had the Saints' welfare more than that of the Colts dancing around his mind at the moment.
Consider the evidence for the conspiracists: Manning was born and raised in New Orleans. And his father, Archie, is legendary around the Gulf Coast region. And the Mannings (which includes New York Giants quarterback Eli) knew as well as anybody before the game how much a world championship in New Orleans would brighten the souls of those still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. And Wayne, who possibly ran a shoddy route against Porter, also is from New Orleans.
For instance ...
"I honestly think Peyton Manning gave them the game. He gave them the game," said John Fraction, 40, an Indianapolis native, swinging his fists at nothing but air after he took a break from serving tables at a downtown sports bar. He spent the Super Bowl rubbing his lucky horseshoes that he swears helped the Colts win their first and only world championship for Indianapolis in 2007.
This time, when the horseshoes became just a bunch of rusty iron in Fraction's world after the Colts botched a 10-0 lead, he recalled how he wiped tears from his cheeks, and then said softly to himself, "There it is."
Added Fraction, "I'm speaking for myself. You know? There's that dilemma that this guy faced, because Peyton Manning is an outstanding quarterback. It just seemed like a battle between pride and greed. Peyton Manning wanted to win a second Super Bowl ring in front of everybody and keep it for himself. That was greed, but pride took over. And you also had the completion thing in play.
"Peyton just looked at it as if he were being a better humanitarian if the Saints won the Super Bowl, especially given what the city of New Orleans had gone through. So he got a ring, and Eli got a ring (the year after Peyton in 2008), and in a sense, maybe Archie got a ring with the Saints winning this Super Bowl."
Give or take a few points, others echoed Fraction.
There was Deagria Cook, for instance, whose customers as a hair stylist in town include some of the Colts cheerleaders.
What were Cook's first thoughts with The Interception? "It was all of our thoughts, when we were watching the game during a conference in Arizona, and it was 'Oh, my goodness. He gave this away. Did he really just give it away like that?' " said Cook, another Indianapolis native, shaking her head, between bites at a downtown restaurant. "I mean, really. 'Was that intentional?' That's what we were thinking. At the same time, I felt it was great for the Saints for what it would do for their city. We had our moment a couple of years ago when we won it.
"But, yeah, seriously. Was that intentional?"
Greg Ballard laughed. Then he laughed some more.
Not only is Ballard a staunch sports fan as another Indianapolis native who has bled blue and white since the Colts came to town in 1984, but he is the mayor of Indianapolis. He couldn't stop laughing from the conference room next to his office when told of the Manning conspiracists who won't back down.
"So Peyton works his entire life to get this point, and he's going to throw it all away," said Ballard, laughing again. His press secretary, Robert Vane, added nearby, between chuckles, "And we also never landed on the moon."
But, seriously. Was that intentional?
Said Ballard, easing into the non-nonsense voice that he used when he was a lieutenant colonel for the Marines, "That's ludicrous. It's just plain ludicrous for people to think that way (about the Super Bowl). There is no question that Peyton Manning wanted to win that game. Even if you remember what happened after that onsides kick (by the Saints to begin the second half). New Orleans went down and scored, and what happened right after that? Peyton drove them right back down the field, and the Colts took the lead right back. That tells you what kind of guy he is."
This is the kind of guy who still is beloved throughout Indiana, especially around Indianapolis, and for good reason. Not only does Manning have a record four NFL MVP awards, and not only did he help the Colts win more games during a given decade than any team in league history, but he is extremely charismatic (see his commercials), and he is an noted philanthropist. In fact, he gave so much of his time, money and spirit to the St. Vincent Children's Hospital through the years in Indianapolis that they named the place after Manning in 2007.
He studies more than any quarterback in the game. He also works harder than any quarterback in the game.
That's not the profile of a game-thrower.
"No, no, no," said Michael Stern, 44, a limousine driver, who was waiting for a client outside of a downtown hotel. Stern is yet another Indianapolis native, and he has met Manning. Added Stern, "I've met all of them. I've driven Eli, Archie and all of them around, and I'll tell you about Peyton. He's always involved with something involved in this city, which tells you he'd never do anything bad to this city."
Not on purpose.
When you choke, you can't help it.