ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the first time in his 16-year career,
Sunday night, the quarterback will face his former team, the team he led for 13 seasons, 11 of which ended in a playoff berth. But his final year as an Indianapolis Colt was spent on the sidelines with a neck injury, and now he returns as a Denver Bronco.
"It’s hard to predict how I will feel, emotionally," Manning said. "Football certainly is an emotional game, but to predict how you will feel? I just don’t know."
"How I’ll feel walking into the stadium? I can’t tell you that right now. I’ll probably know after the game, I probably may not tell you that after the game either," he laughed. "It’s just too hard to predict.”
What Manning did know is how hard he's going to prepare for the game. As he put it, 52 other players and coaches are counting on him to be prepared to play a good, 4-2 football team.
The Colts are coming off a 19-9 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football, but prior to that had won four straight, including victories against two NFC teams widely considered to be Super Bowl contenders, Seattle and San Francisco.
Indianapolis ranks 13th in the league in total offense and 11th in total defense, and the Broncos know they're in for a challenge on Sunday Night Football.
But even with as long as Manning played in Indy, it doesn't do him a lot of good in preparing for this version of the Colts.
"(It's) a team that – it may sound strange – is unfamiliar," he said. "It’s an unfamiliar opponent, a lot of guys that I’ve never played against and certainly a new scheme."
He pointed to linebacker Robert Mathis and safety Antoine Bethea as players he is close to and certainly has a familiarity with, but much of the defensive staff is different than just two years ago when Manning was a Colt.
"No question it's unique," Manning said. "Somebody asked me earlier, ‘Is this kind of like playing against (Giants quarterback) Eli (Manning)?’ And I said, ‘I know Robert Mathis hits harder than Eli. I guarantee you that.’ So it’s different from that standpoint, and trying to keep the ball away from Bethea and we’re beat up in the offensive line and playing against a premier pass-rush team. So that’s all I know to do – prepare from that standpoint. But yeah, to say it’s unique – that’s absolutely a true statement.”
With that preparation underway, Manning said it makes it even harder to focus on his reaction to his old home stadium.
"If all I had to do was to walk in here and waive, and sign some autographs, and kiss a few babies and smile – it’d be easy," he said. "But I’ve got to figure out how to stay away from Mathis and complete some passes on (cornerback Vontae) Davis and (cornerback Greg) Toler and (cornerback Darius) Butler, who are I think really good cover corners."
Still, even as the focus of the team -- including Manning -- is on the Broncos versus the Colts, the talk leading up to the game will be on how Manning in particular will handle his homecoming of sorts.
"Football is an emotional game, there is no doubt about it," he said. "I can’t tell you what emotions I’ll feel, sitting here on Wednesday. But all I know to do is to get as prepared as I possibly can.
"Because I owe that to a lot of guys who are counting on me.”