To Edmonton Oiler fans, and most Canadians, August 9th , 1988 lives in infamy. I was just shy of 2 months old at the time but it’s a date I can, sadly, name quicker than my mom’s birthday. The day Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. The unforgettable moments of a tearful Great One sitting next to then owner Peter Pocklington still haunt Oiler fans to this day. Shortly after the trade, Oilers fans burned Pocklington in effigy outside Northlands Coliseum. Pocklington’s public image in Edmonton and all of Canada was never restored.
That moment changed the face of hockey for a generation. A player drafted into the ranks as a highly touted prospect who lived to become one of the greatest to ever play the game. Canadian hockey fans were about to see a legend put on the jersey of an American franchise.
Today, We saw what I can only picture of that sad day in ’88. Only this time the sport and transaction were different. Peyton Manning, future Hall of Fame quarterback, was released by the Indianapolis Colts.
Before the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis, the Colts were a terrible team in a new city. With a 1-15 record in 1997 the Colts won the right to draft the best college prospect the NFL had ever seen. He lived up to the hype. Only one losing season from 1998-2010, 4 league MVP’s, 1 Superbowl title, countless passing records and, oh yeah, 227 consecutive starts. Manning built a football giant in Indianapolis. Actually, it was Peyton who was the giant all on his own. With Peyton on the IR for the 2011 NFL season the Colts returned to their fabled 1-15 record and again won the right to draft the best college prospect since Peyton, quarterback Andrew Luck from Stanford University.
So, the day before the Colts were set to owe Manning $28 million dollars, owner Jim Irsay decided to cut ties with the most beloved man in Indianapolis. Much like Pocklington, Irsay sat on national television, next to the man he owes so very much, to announce the news of his departure. A teary eyed Manning insisted to his fans that he will “always be a Colt”. Both parties reasoned with the sports world insisting that it wasn’t a decision about money.
At the end of the day, it’s always about the money.
Sitting there, watching the press conference, all I could think about was how much I was reminded of watching the highlights of August 9th., 1988. This is my generations version of “The Trade” perhaps. Whether Manning lands in New York, Miami, or Kansas City it sure will be odd to see #18 in another sweater.
It’s hard to say who will be the winner in this version of the sports divorce, I just hope Jim Irsay understands how lucky he was that Peyton was the top prospect in ’98 and not Ryan Leaf.