INDIANAPOLIS, IND—The Indianapolis Colts travel to Detroit's Ford Field on Saturday for a week 3 preseason game against the Lions. Detroit, coming off the first 0-16 regular season in NFL history, is a team in obvious transition. The Lions began their face lift by giving their team logo a new look and their team roster a new face. Enter Matthew Stafford, the number one draft pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Back in 1998, it was the Indianapolis Colts who were in need of a new direction. Coming off a 3-13 record in 1997, Jim Irsay (who, earlier that year at age 37, became the youngest team owner in NFL history) hired Bill Polian from the general manager position for the Carolina Panthers to be the new team President for the Colts. Polian was a two time winner of the NFL Executive of the Year Award (1988 and 1991) for his success in building the AFC powerhouse of the late 1980's and early 1990's, the Buffalo Bills.
Read: Colts Prepare for Lions, Rookie QB
Bill Polian made an immediate impact by firing Lindy Infante as head coach and hiring Jim Mora. Next, he released quarterback Jim Harbaugh (who had led the Colts to the AFC championship game in the 1995 season). That move created a need at quarterback and perhaps one of the best draft decisions of the NFL's modern era the selection of Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf.
"He's no longer going to wear '16' he's gonna be '18' with the Colts. And welcome aboard," said Bill Polian when he introduced Peyton Manning to the Indianapolis media on April 19, 1998.
(In the smallest or ironies, the number '16' would be what Ryan Leaf would wear during his 3 unproductive seasons in San Diego.)
Manning would throw for over 3,700 yards with 26 touchdowns and set five rookie records while being named to the NFL All-Rookie First Team in 1998. A Super Bowl ring, 3 NFL MVP Awards and 9 Pro Bowl selections later, the move to get Manning would never be second guessed by football fans in, or outside, 'The Circle City' of Indianapolis.
Read: Peyton: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Few first overall selections spent on QB's have paid such dividends for an NFL franchise the way that Peyton Manning has for the Indianapolis Colts. For every Manning, Elway and Aikman there is Carr, Couch and Smith. One wrong decision could mean the difference between championships or more coaching and front office changes.
For Martin Mayhew (general manager) and Jim Schwartz (head coach), who are both entering their first full season in their respective positions for the Lions, the future success of Matthew Stafford will most likely determine both of their future's in Detroit. So far in the preseason, Stafford has shown signs of being a star and a bust. In week one of the preseason against the Atlanta Falcons, Stafford was 7-14 for 114 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception (despite numerous dropped balls by Lions receivers). But last week Stafford was picked-off on his first passing attempt and was a dismal 5-13 for only 34 yards with no touchdowns and the 1 interception.
Like Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford enters his professional career as the #1 overall pick and as one of the top passers from college football's SEC. Unlike Manning, the starting quarterback position does not automatically belong to Stafford. And unlike another rookie quarterback in 2009, Mark Sanchez, who was named the regular season starter this week by the NY Jets, Stafford in a battle with veteran Daunte Culpepper for the first-string job in Detroit. Both will play against the Colts this weekend.
The Colts and Lions preseason game begins at 1:00 on Saturday from Ford Field in Detroit and can be viewed live in Indianapolis on WTTV-4.