It’s never easy saying goodbye.
You sometimes see it coming — whether you want to admit it or not — as the fans of Indianapolis did before iconic quarterback Peyton Manning finally took the podium on Wednesday afternoon.
Other times, it comes out of nowhere to hit you like a Mack truck, with no possible way of preparing yourself.
Either way, you’re never truly ready when the moment comes.
Putting aside our city’s well-chronicled feelings toward Indianapolis and the quarterback that twice eliminated the Ravens from the playoffs, you couldn’t help but feel a lump in your throat watching a teary-eyed Manning bid farewell to the city and organization he called home for 14 years. In that moment, an option bonus, the No. 1 pick in the draft, and potential free-agent destinations took a backseat to raw emotion.
And it reminded us that day is coming all too quickly for Ray Lewis in Baltimore.
Of course, the circumstances are different. It appears — but I can’t stress enough that it’s far from a certainty — Lewis will have the opportunity to ride off into the sunset as a member of the same organization that drafted him out of the University of Miami in 1996. There is no $28 million albatross standing in the way over the final four years of Lewis’ current contract, but his cap number will grow annually (he will reportedly make just under $5 million in base salary and have a $6.85 million cap number in 2012) if Lewis holds on longer than expected and forces the organization to make a difficult decision.
But any way you slice it, the scene that played out in Indianapolis on Wednesday will be replicated with Lewis and the Ravens in some shape or form. And it will be difficult to accept.
Sports icons such as Manning and Lewis are a dying breed as time goes on, with fewer athletes sticking around for more than a handful of years in a given city. Their significance goes far beyond simple performance on the field. The former Indianapolis quarterback gave his city a real football identity detached from the stolen heritage of the Baltimore Colts while the Ravens have never played a snap of football without Lewis as a member of the organization.
That’s why it’s so silly to hear discussion of Stanford’s Andrew Luck “replacing” Manning in Indianapolis or the Ravens looking for the “heir apparent” to Lewis at inside linebacker. New players will assume their abandoned positions, but their presence remains in an almost spiritual sense in fans’ minds and hearts.
Make no mistake, the sun will rise in the morning as Indianapolis begins the first full day of the post-Manning era, and the Ravens will continue playing football in Baltimore long after No. 52 ceases dancing out of the tunnel and inflicting fear in the hearts of opposing offenses.