Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning stood under a huge cargo jet in the FedEx Maintenance Hangar at Indianapolis International Airport. The Denver Broncos quarterback is back in town for Celebration of Caring Gala, an annual fundraiser for the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent. Country music artist Luke Bryan provided entertainment for the event, which was closed to the media.
"We're going to raise a lot of money tonight," said Manning, emcee for the event. "We're going to announce it in the coming days after the event. We're going to have a lot of fun and honor some truly special people."
Manning will make another special appearance later this year in Indy when he faces his former team for the first time. The Colts host the Broncos on NBC's Sunday Night Football on October 20th at 8:30 p.m.
"I will reflect on it and have some thoughts on that week in October," said Manning, who deflected the question. "I really don't have to talk about it until that week and that's when I will. I'm sure that game will be on TV, I would think. There might be a few people trying to get a ticket to that game."
Manning says he has several other games to think about before he returns to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Broncos open the season in Denver on Thursday, September 5th, against the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Peyton faces his brother Eli in week two when the Broncos visit the New York Giants.
But Manning says he still feels a deep connection to Indianapolis.
"I obviously don't play here anymore," said Manning. "But my PeyBack Foundation is still based here in Indianapolis. My connection with the Children's Hospital is still strong and will continue to be here as long as they'll have me."
Manning missed all of the 2011 season after neck surgery. The Colts released him in March 2012 and he signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos. In his first season in Denver, Manning led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and the AFC West division title. He completed 400 of 583 passes for 4,659 yards. The Broncos lost a double overtime heartbreaker to the Ravens in the playoffs.
"This time last year there was still a lot of unknown for me" said Manning. "It really felt good to get back out there. The year that I sat out you really miss being out there with your teammates. A lot of hard work that I put in, a lot of people that helped me along the way, doctors and trainers here in Indianapolis and Denver. I've been to Duke to see coaches. I was really just so grateful all year for all of the people that helped me."
Manning begins his 16th season in the NFL this fall.
"I still have challenges post-injury," said Manning. "Part of it is post-injury. Part of it is a new team. Part of it is probably being 37. I continue to do my rehab that I've had to do for the past going on two years."