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Manning also has a significant charitable presence in the community. St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in 2007 was renamed Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent. His PeyBack Foundation has donated more than $4 million to youth organizations in Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana.

“His emergence on this football team and what he has meant coincides with the emergence of this town,” said John Michael Vincent, a host on ESPN1070 The Fan radio in Indianapolis. “You can give Manning a great deal of credit along with this city, as they took full advantage of the era here. They brought him in just as this city and some of the long-term ideas and focus with downtown started to evolve into the now. It was a perfect fit.”

Lasting legacy

At a high-top table inside the cafe Tuesday, Lamm fretted over Manning’s future with the Colts. One way or another, he won’t play here forever, she acknowledged. He might even finish his career with another team, perhaps the Washington Redskins.

“It’s going to be awful,” she said, contemplating the end. She repeated the words, as if to convince herself of reality.

Manning’s departure would leave the Colts in need of a quarterback. In going 2-14 without him in 2011, they earned the first-overall pick in the 2012 draft. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is an extremely enticing prospect, but it will take more than talent to follow Manning’s legacy.

“Maybe I’ll be proven wrong once the Andrew Luck era begins and Manning is waiting to play someplace else, but my firm belief is we’re going find out heavily that this town is certainly a Colts town but at the same time is a huge Manning town,” Vincent said. “Keep in mind that this franchise, it was rumored every six or so months [in the mid-1990s] that it would be relocating to Southern California. He re-energized this city and its love for the NFL and Colts football.”

The ways in which Manning and the Colts furthered the city’s development won’t be undone if he is released, but continuing to brand the city as a winner is necessary to build on the foundation in place.

“I don’t think we’d all lose our will to live,” Harton, the IBJ editor, cracked.

“It’s more about are the Colts going to figure out how to rebuild in a way that they don’t just sink into obscurity. I think ultimately it’s more important how they do than whether any one player is here.”

Such is the cold reality of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL. In the meantime, Indianapolis can reflect and celebrate a beneficial partnership not every city enjoys.

“If Peyton Manning departs Indianapolis, we simply say thank you,” said Gahl, the ICVA spokesman. “Thank you for bringing a winning football team that brought in droves of media to shine an international spotlight on Indianapolis, and thank you for not only for being a leader on the field but off the field where children’s hospitals were built, where time was given to welcome special visitors and groups in conventions, and thank you for helping growing Indianapolis’ image as a vibrant city.”