<
>

Peyton's first TD sparked new era

Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught Peyton Manning's first touchdown pass in a 24-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 6, 1998. It was a 6-yard pass with four seconds remaining.

Manning to Harrison, touchdown.

How many times did we hear that call? How many ways did the two connect for a score? No player caught more touchdown passes from Peyton Manning than the elusive Marvin Harrison did during 11 seasons together in Indianapolis. Of Manning's NFL-record 510 regular-season touchdown passes during his 14-year career, 112 went to Harrison, a speedy, sure-handed receiver whose work ethic, preparation and attention to detail mirrored Manning's.

Touchdown No. 1 for Manning was meaningful for only two reasons: It was the first of his legendary career and it was to Harrison, foreshadowing what would become one of the greatest quarterback-receiver tandems of all time. But it was also meaningless because, unlike so many other touchdowns the duo scored, it had zero effect on the outcome of the game.

It was the first game of Manning's rookie year. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had promised that 1998 would be the beginning of a new era in the Colts' storied history. He hired Bill Polian to be the team's new president. Polian then hired Jim Mora to be the team's new coach. In April, after exhaustive research and debate, the franchise decided to draft Manning out of Tennessee instead of Washington State's Ryan Leaf.

It was a new era, indeed.

Manning's first pass of the preseason went to Harrison for 48 yards and a touchdown against Seattle. His first pass of the regular season, in Week 1 against the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins, went to running back Marshall Faulk on the Colts' first offensive play of the game. Manning's first regular-season pass to Harrison came a few plays later, on third-and-3 at the Dolphins' 36-yard line. Harrison hauled in the pass for a 6-yard gain.

As he would throughout the seasons that followed, Manning targeted Harrison early and often that game. Then 26 years old, Harrison was in his third season out of Syracuse and had yet to record a 1,000-yard season or make a Pro Bowl.

Against Miami, Manning targeted Harrison 15 times. Dolphins cornerback Terrell Buckley picked off two of those passes, returning one 21 yards for a touchdown and a 24-9 Dolphins lead. Another pass from Manning to Harrison went for 42 yards. On the last play of the game, with the Colts trailing by 15 points, Manning found Harrison for a 6-yard touchdown -- his first in the NFL.

Polian said he did not remember that first touchdown pass. He said that at the time, he was far more concerned with the Colts' defense, which lacked the requisite playmakers to help the team be successful. Polian knew the offense had potential. The Colts had an effective running game with Marshall Faulk. They had good options at receiver, led by Harrison. It just would take time to break in their rookie quarterback.

But Polian remembered pulling Manning and Harrison aside after a game later that season. The pair had misfired on what should have been a touchdown. Harrison went one way. Manning went the other. The Colts lost the game.

"I don't want you to hang your heads," Polian told them. "This is never going to happen again. The way you two work, everything will become second nature.

"And that's exactly what happened," Polian said. "It was obvious if you were around them, you could tell they were both great workers, both had great pride, both wanted to do well. You knew it was just going to come, and it did."

Harrison's season was cut short by a separated shoulder suffered in late November against Baltimore, while Manning set NFL rookie records in every passing category, including touchdowns, seven of which went to Harrison.

From 1999 to 2006, Harrison had eight straight 1,000-yard seasons. In November 2006, Harrison joined Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Cris Carter as the only wide receivers in NFL history at the time with 1,000 catches.

And the quarterback, he turned out all right, too.

"You kind of went into it recognizing that he's going to make mistakes like every other rookie, and particularly like every other rookie quarterback," Polian said. "We knew right from the start that he had what it took, but there was going to be a learning curve. We knew that it would come, that it was just a matter of time. We just had to give him time to play."