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Could Trevor Lawrence change Jacksonville like Peyton Manning changed Indianapolis?

The early comparisons between the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence and the Colts’ Peyton Manning go well beyond the stats.

NFL: Pro Bowl Skills Competition
Peyton Manning and Trevor Lawrence sharing a laugh at the 2023 Pro Bowl.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was made last September when, like Peyton Manning, Trevor Lawrence snapped his 0-9 record on the road by defeating the same team Manning did to end the same streak, the Los Angeles Chargers (formerly, the San Diego Chargers when Manning played).

Both had rough rookie seasons that included glimmers of hope, winning a whopping three games with 71% quarterback ratings, respectively. In 1999, Manning’s second season, he flipped the Indianapolis Colts’ regular season record from 3-13 to 13-3 to win the division (the AFC East at the time) only to lose to the eventual AFC Champion Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs. Likewise, in Lawrence’s sophomore season, the Jacksonville Jaguars rallied to win the AFC South at 9-8, losing to the current Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

Yeah, the stats and the records are eerily similar.

Not to mention, like Manning, Lawrence was a legendary college quarterback who was considered a sure bet for NFL success. He grew up admiring the two-time Super Bowl champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer, rocking the number 16 jersey as a nod to Manning, who wore that same number in college at Tennessee and was even a counselor during Lawrence’s college years at the legendary Manning Passing Academy.

But there’s an even more striking connection between the two that has the potential to have a real impact on a city that’s on the precipice of real change.

Their environments: A new mayor, a new stadium, and a new downtown

In 2000, Manning entered his third season. Coming off a turnaround year that caught NFL fans by surprise and put the Colts on the radar of NFL observers as a perennial Super Bowl contender, Indianapolis voted in a new mayor by the name of Bart Peterson. Peterson won re-election and held office until 2008 – the same year Lucas Oil Stadium opened.

“A lot of people forget how monumental it was to get the Lucas Oil Stadium deal done and keep the Colts long-term. When we started (in the early 2000s), nobody was in favor of doing a deal with the Colts. It’s not that the Colts weren’t popular, it’s that it’s never popular to use taxpayer money to help build a stadium.”

But the winning ways of the Colts, along with Manning throwing passes at the Indiana Statehouse, helped get the deal through.

While we don’t know if Trevor will be in Tallahassee hitting wide-open politicians in the numbers, the timing of a young franchise quarterback entering his third season early in the stadium renovation process, a new mayor, and a city lusting for a vibrant downtown seems akin to the Manning experience in Indy.

In Manning’s time in Indy, and as the glory days continued with Andrew Luck under center, it’s hard to argue (but also hard to financially calculate) the impact his play and star power had on the city of Indianapolis. As noted in a 2016 Forbes article, the excitement resulting from Manning’s on-field play was a key factor in getting the stadium deal done and securing 50% in public funds for the $750 million Lucas Oil Stadium — the same percentage split that’s being proposed by the Jaguars for the stadium-entertainment district venture. Subsequently, the presence of a state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Stadium attracted the 2012 Super Bowl, major college football and basketball events, and helped keep everyone’s favorite event, the NFL Combine (a.k.a. the “Underwear Olympics”) in Indy.

Outside of the new stadium and its attraction for major sporting events, Manning’s notoriety, connections to entertainment icons, and commitment to giving back raised millions for community organizations and launched significant philanthropic initiatives for Indianapolis citizens.

“An appropriate accounting of (Manning’s) contributions would have to reach the conclusion that he made Indianapolis a better place to live,” said Peterson.

As it stands, a revamped stadium in Jacksonville is still (and rightfully so) open for public debate and will require the partnership of the City Council, Mayor Donna Deegan, and Jaguars owner Shad Khan. While Khan plans to invest significant money to turn the area around the renovated stadium into a mixed-use entertainment district, it stands to reason that both public and private investment in all of downtown must be an ongoing strategy to create the environment where residents want to live and tourists want to visit. And many of the details and proposed numbers around who will own what and how much taxpayer money will need to be invested are yet to be agreed upon.

But what can the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville learn from Indy and the Manning experience? At the top of the list: timing matters. This is something both Lamping and Deegan have publicly acknowledged, with Lamping often beginning recent interviews about the stadium by calling out the potential success of the team with a promising quarterback and a Super Bowl-winning coach, as well as a new mayor and what he’s described as a desire from those in the community to have a vibrant city center.

“The timing is now because of so many different reasons,” Lamping has told reporters. “The city is on fire. The Jaguars are ascending. We have exciting new leadership coming into City Hall.”

For Deegan’s part, she went on record to say that it was in fact her recommendation that the Jaguars hold the town hall “huddles” throughout the city.

“Frankly, we both really want to get to yes,” Deegan said in a recent press conference.

Both political and football capital are limited (as Khan and Lamping found out with the failed Lot J proposal), and the need to strike while the iron is hot – especially when the proposed stadium renovation wouldn’t be complete until at least 2028 – is crucial.

Is the Manning-Lawrence comparison fair?

Right now… maybe, maybe not. While the stat lines and comparisons to the circumstances in each city are almost conspiracy-theory-level similar (not to mention, Indianapolis and Jacksonville are remarkably close in metro populations), nobody can predict the future. And yes, there’s a whole career that’s yet to play out.

However, while Lawrence may present a more laid-back, almost surfer-like personality than Manning, his level of talent, competitive nature and ability to lift up those around him make his potential impact on the Bold City of the South not so hard to imagine. If it wasn’t for honorary Jaguars great Frank Gore, Lawrence would be in New York right now and the elation and electricity felt throughout Jacksonville this past winter probably would not have happened. Who knows where talks of a “Stadium of the Future” would be at, and the idea of having a consistent Super Bowl contender for the only professional sports team that exists in the city would be a continued fantasy.

There’s no doubt that Lawrence would have been a star in New York, and probably on a personal level, a much bigger one than what he’ll end up as in Jacksonville. The lights are much brighter, and it would’ve been much easier to shoot Subway commercials from, well, an actual subway. However, his impact on New York City itself would have been limited. In a city with Aaron Judge, Madison Square Garden, and entertainment icons galore, Lawrence would’ve been a face of the city – but not the face.

“The sky is the limit for this guy,” said Manning of Lawrence following the 2023 Pro Bowl.

Trevor Lawrence isn’t a powerful government official. Nor is he an NFL owner, and for now, not a major private investor in downtown. However, one could argue that both his potential as a megastar in the NFL’s third smallest market along with the quality of human he has shown to be will make Jacksonville a better place to live.

It’s not crazy to think in 15 years, a Trevor Lawrence statue outside of a revamped Jaguars stadium will resemble the Peyton Manning statue that currently stands outside of Lucas Oil Stadium.