Vann Island

I hope you didn’t get too comfortable hanging out on “Corey’s Corner,” because it is now time to get stranded on “Vann Island.” Usually your friends give you a nickname, but this one was self-anointed. The birth of Vann Island occurred when I was asked to play cornerback (I came to Dartmouth to play wide receiver) during my sophomore year in a JV contest against Middlebury College.

Being the humble comedian that I am, I thought it was appropriate and not at all premature to immediately compare myself to New York Jets All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis, who is famous for stranding opposing wide receivers on his own private island. After a few pass-breakups, a lot of fist pumping and cheers from the two people who were in attendance at the game, the nickname became permanent.

Today, I want to talk about a football player who has never been JV in any sense of the phrase. A player that would carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey if he saw me in the secondary, and, most importantly, the player that sparked my interest in the sport Peyton Manning.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait aren’t you from Los Angeles?” But as I mentioned last week, LA has been without an NFL team since the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995. So from a young age I directed my attention to the collegiate level, and Manning was everywhere.

Even though by geography I was supposed to be a USC or UCLA fan, I couldn’t help but root for Manning and the University of Tennessee. The way he carried himself on the field and the manner in which he conducted his postgame interviews was what really won me over. And when he was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, I booked a first-class ticket to hop on the Colts bandwagon.

I did not know a single thing about the Colts before No. 18 arrived. I dare you to try to think about the last time Indy’s roster did not include Manning. Yes, football buffs will tell you about Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and John Mackey, but those players were Baltimore Colts. And let’s be honest, when you think about the careers of luminaries such as Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson, you think of the Rams, not the Indianapolis Colts.

My love affair with the Colts started with Manning, but it became so much more. As Indy became a perennial championship contender under Manning’s guidance, I started to develop the same kind of affection that I had for Manning for players like Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Bob Sanders. It’s fair to say that I was “all in” with the Colts. That said, it was still Manning’s jersey I had on my back every Sunday.

What I’m trying to say is that Manning is all that Colts fans know, so what are we supposed to do now that Manning is no longer a Colt? Is it time to turn in our horseshoes? Maybe take a ride on a Bronco instead?

I have pledged allegiance to Manning for the better part of 15 years, and there is no way I’m stopping now. I was wearing a Colts t-shirt last night mostly because it was laundry time (for those of us who do not have a laundry service, you know exactly what I’m talking about), and a friend approached me, pointed to the shirt and succinctly summed it up “sucks, man.”

I had to actually look down at my shirt to comprehend the situation because that’s how detached I am from the Colts already. I know I may seem like a fair-weather fan, but isn’t that how I started my relationship with the Colts in the first place?

Last year with Manning injured, it was like I was watching a completely different team. Manning was the cog that kept Indy’s offensive machine whirring. Everything depended on him even the defense. Why do you think Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney were racking up double-digit sacks every year? Because the Colts were always winning.

There are few players in the history of sports who have meant as much to their respective franchises and cities as Manning. If you have been a fan of the Colts for the last decade, you would be lying if you told me your connection to Manning ended when he was cut on March 7. He constructed a legacy that has earned the loyalty of his fans no matter what team he plays for now.

I understand that Colts fans are excited about Andrew Luck, but I have already made my choice. Yeah, Manning’s neck may not hold up, but that is a risk I am willing to take. So it’s time to board the Broncos bandwagon and see what I get. With Manning in the saddle, I have a feeling it’s going to be a smooth ride.

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