Peyton, Reggie and the politbureau

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I could be writing this column about the most recent insults to our commonwealth by Republicans in the state legislature. The slap in the face they delivered to LGBT people. The way they appear to be thwarting the popular will in northwest Indiana when it comes to selling liquor in state parks.

You know about all this.

Let’s face it: Indiana’s state government resembles nothing so much as an old, Soviet-style politbureau. It doesn’t matter what the people of Indiana want. The hacks in the state legislature, an embarrassing number of whom run unopposed, will do whatever they damn well please. In Indiana, this is called integrity.

But let us breathe deeply and note that the Super Bowl is being played this weekend. And that Peyton Manning will be quarterbacking one of the teams.

Although Peyton is no longer an Indianapolis Colt, there is still significance in this. It looks as though it could be Peyton’s last game. Hobbled by injury, worn down by Father Time, this once brilliant athlete is a shadow of his former self — the self we in Indy knew so well. It seems likely the Manning Era is coming to an end.

Much has been well and truly said about the impact Peyton Manning had on Indianapolis. His arrival here in 1998 not only transformed the Colts, it cemented the city’s position as a professional sports destination, something that — whether one favors sports or not — has had a profound effect on the city’s subsequent development.

But while I am an unabashed fan, I’m not here to pile yet more verbiage on the written tower of tribute to Peyton Manning. That’s because I wonder if he ever would have come to Indy had it not been for the body of work by another local star: Reggie Miller.

It’s worth remembering that in 1998, the year Peyton was drafted by the Colts, Reggie Miller was leading the Indiana Pacers through one of the most closely fought series in modern sports memory against the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers would come to within two minutes of doing the impossible and beating Michael Jordan’s Bulls, just missing out on making the NBA Finals. Rarely has a sequence of games in any sport been so compelling. At times it felt like all of Indianapolis was leaning at the free throw line. If you remember those games, you know what I mean.

Reggie Miller turned down opportunities to play elsewhere in order to be forever identified with one city, Indianapolis, and one team, the Indiana Pacers. In doing so he made it plain that this city was ready for the kind of excellence a Peyton Manning could bring.

People like calling The Luke the House That Peyton Manning built. If that’s true (and I believe it is) then Reggie Miller built Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That there’s not a statue in this man’s honor yet is a crying shame.

Which brings me back to our Republican politbureau, a group for whom excellence is an alien concept, since they seem dead set on disinviting a large portion of humanity from full citizenship in this state. It’s what in sports they call bush league. So far they’re getting away with it.


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