Country music performer Sara Evans stood on a stage near midfield practicing her halftime show more than three hours before kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was the first of many signs this was anything but a routine Sunday night in downtown Indianapolis.
Peyton Manning returned to the town he called home for 14 years, and he was greeted by familiar faces at every turn. Former Indianapolis stars Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Jeff Saturday were on hand for the big night. And each got his own moment on the in-stadium video screens along with a loud ovation.
Current Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne posed for photos with Harrison and James pregame, and the moment also was caught on the giant video screens.
But Manning clearly was the star of the show.
He did not come out to the field for early warmups, making his first appearance at 7:39 — less than an hour before kickoff — while about half the fans had yet to settle into their seats. Manning ran with his head down and did not acknowledge the cheers at the time.
He later waved to a few fans while stretching, and his second trip onto the field went almost unnoticed.
The Colts played a video tribute on the big screens while the Broncos ran out to start the game. The montage ended with an image of Manning hoisting the Lombardi Trophy above his head on a rainy February night seven years ago in Miami.
A live shot of the quarterback appeared on the video screens next, and the stadium erupted into cheers. Manning appeared to have tears in the corners of his eyes as he waved to the adoring masses.
The Broncos won the coin toss but chose to defer, with the emotional pregame tribute perhaps playing into the decision.