Wayne Gretzky understands 'very emotional' Manning return

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Wayne Gretzky understands what Peyton Manning's going through Sunday night.
Wayne Gretzky understands what Peyton Manning's going through Sunday night. (USATSI)

Not many folks understand what Peyton Manning is going through this week. The Broncos quarterback is returning to Indianapolis, where he was a legendary signal caller for 14 years, to play his hold team the Colts.

One person who does get what Manning's going through? The NHL's G.O.A.T., Wayne Gretzky once faced similar circumstances. 25 years ago (almost to the day), Gretzky and the L.A. Kings returned to Edmonton to play the Oilers. And he told the Los Angeles Times it was "pretty emotional."

"Let me tell you something, Peyton won't sleep much this week because of the emotions and excitement that he's probably feeling," Gretzky said. "I can't speak for him, but I know what I went through. It's pretty emotional. I spent a lot of years there, like he did, and you become almost friends with the city."

Gretzky is also able to empathize with Peyton in the sense that Edmonton and Indy, the Great One believes, are small enough where star players become attached to the community as a whole.

"Indianapolis is similar to Edmonton in that it's not New York or Los Angeles," Gretzky said. "So you're at the stadium, and the places you go to eat, and the people you meet in the community are the people who are in those seats. So they become friends. They're not just fans, they become more like friends. So it becomes very emotional."

But there is good news for Manning. Like Gretzky, he left on "pretty good terms" and therefore will have fans who are excited to see him, not to mention being thrilled with his success elsewhere.

"We both left on pretty good terms," Gretzky said. "It wasn't like we sort of ran out the door or left on bad terms. In that sense it's very similar in that he's going back to an environment where every fan in that stadium absolutely idolized him and admired and respected him, not only for what he did for the team but for the city.

"I think for the fans this is an opportunity to get to see him play one more time, although it will be in a different uniform, but they get to pay their respects maybe one last time with him playing a game in Indianapolis. So from that point of view it will probably be very exciting for everybody."

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