Peyton Manning: A weird and ugly ending is at hand in Indy

Peyton Manning, shown not playing. (AP photo)

Peyton Manning, shown here not playing. (AP photo)

The Super Bowl dwarfs all else in North American sports, but the Super Bowl will be only the second-biggest story in this year’s host city. Of greater interest in Indianapolis is what’s happening with Peyton Manning, the only NFL player who’s a team unto himself.

Everybody knew Peyton Manning was a great player, but just how great was revealed only when, for the first time since he was drafted out of Tennessee in 1998, he wasn’t able to play. For 13 seasons and through 227 consecutive starts, Manning made the Colts a viable concern. Then he had offseason neck surgery and was so slow to heal that he missed not just a start but a season.

With Manning, the Colts had made the playoffs 11 times in 12 seasons. Without him, they did well to win two games. They were the NFL equivalent of the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron James took his talents elsewhere, and here we thought that in football no one man could mean half that much. For more than a decade Manning conveyed the aura of overall excellence on the team that wears the horseshoe, and in one winter his absence gave lie to all that.

And now the Colts, having fired their vice chairman, their general manager and their head coach, stand ready to dump Manning, too. By being so awful, they gained the right to pick first in the NFL draft. The draft’s prize is Andrew Luck, considered the most NFL-ready quarterback since … er, Peyton Manning.

(There was some thought that the Colts would take Luck and make him Manning’s understudy for a year or so, but that’s no longer the way the NFL works. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco played right away. Mark Sanchez and Cam Newton played right away. Andrew Luck needs to play right away.)

There’s also a monetary concern. The Colts, who paid Manning $26 million for a season he missed, are obliged to pay a $28 million bonus if he’s on the roster as of March 8. This payout figured to be money well spent so long as Manning was healthy and taking the Colts to the playoff, but the moment he couldn’t go — the first such moment in his professional life — he became a drain on the franchise he’d spent 13 years propping up.

Last week the actor Rob Lowe tweeted that “his source” told him that Manning was going to “retire today.” Lowe is known to be buddies with Jim Irsay, the Colts’ owner who fancies himself a cool guy and who buys vintage guitars used by famous rockers and who once paid $2.4 million for Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of “On The Road.” Everyone assumed Lowe’s “source” was indeed Irsay, which Lowe has denied.

Then Manning spoke with Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, expressing his desire to remain a Colt, but lamenting the mood in team headquarters, saying: “It’s not a real good environment down there right now.”

Then Irsay, who apparently inherited the tin-eared gene from his dad, Robert Irsay, the man who Mayflower’ed the Colts out of Baltimore in the dead of a winter night, responded by calling Manning “a politician” and criticized him for going outside “the family.” So now we know:

The Manning era in Indy isn’t just at an end — it’s at a bad end.

For the record, Irsay and Manning related a joint statement Friday saying: “We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us.” Also for the record, nobody has yet found a good way to handle quarterback successions. The tumult from letting Joe Montana leave so Steve Young could take his place divided the 49ers and their fans, and there was great hand-wringing in Green Bay when Brett Favre unretired after a teary benediction. (The Packers chose to stick with heir-apparent Aaron Rodgers; Favre wound up with the Jets.)

If he can play — and there’s no assurance he can — Manning could well win a Super Bowl elsewhere soon. (He turns 36 in March.) In the short term, he’d surely be better off elsewhere. Nobody wants to see a great quarterback toiling for a no-chance team. (Remember Johnny Unitas as a San Diego Charger? No? There’s a reason.) At the same time,  it’s unfair to blame the Colts for wanting to begin their reboot with a younger man: That’s the way of all sports.

Still, this final episode of Peyton’s Place has at its heart a cruel twist. The guy who never missed a start and who made the Colts look far better than they really were finally missed a start and unmasked the horseshoe organization as a one-man gang. Now the one man will be given by the boot. Maybe Jim Irsay can get his soon-to-be-former-employee a rate from Mayflower.

By Mark Bradley

156 comments Add your comment

headley lamar

January 27th, 2012
10:35 am

headley lamar

January 27th, 2012
10:38 am

Thinking of Manning s playing days being over makes me feel old.

Mark Bradley

January 27th, 2012
10:38 am

One week, two rounds of kudos for Headley.

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAH

January 27th, 2012
10:45 am

Not as ugly as your defense accidentally scoring 2 points in their third straight playoff loss.

me

January 27th, 2012
10:48 am

Mark,
If you had been paid $26M last year, would you worry about the $28M this year?

Jesus Christ

January 27th, 2012
10:49 am

Please don’t put LeBron James in the same category as Peyton Manning.
Allen Iverson was a superior player to James.

Sid

January 27th, 2012
10:51 am

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAH January 27th, 2012 10:45 am
Not as ugly as your defense accidentally scoring 2 points in their third straight playoff loss.
*****************************************************
Obviously you haven’t looked in the mirror lately…………..now that’s ugly!

SC Ace

January 27th, 2012
10:52 am

Enter your comments here

Sid

January 27th, 2012
10:52 am

Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight: “If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation and not in Joe Paterno’s response.”

Aaron

January 27th, 2012
10:52 am

Assuming Peyton’s days in Indy are over, at least it’ll end better than Favre in Green Bay.

Unless Peyton goes to the Browns or Jets and leads them to the AFC championship game.

Peadawg

January 27th, 2012
10:53 am

Being completely serious when I say Peyton should be the MVP.

Red Stick

January 27th, 2012
10:54 am

Peyton is a great player but it seems unfathomable that the team would only win 2 games without him.

The NFL is big business and I think it comes down to the money. $28 million is a lot to dole out when you will have to pay Luck big bucks. The Colts have to retool anyway so why keep Manning?

Manning is at the twilight of his career so why would he want to stay on a team that’s in a rebuilding mode? He will move on and be a great quarterback for someone else for a few years as long as he’s healthy.

I don’t know if you can fault either side on this.

Geaux Tigers
SEC Champions

SC Ace

January 27th, 2012
10:54 am

Too bad. He deserved to go out on his terms there, but you can’t fault the Colts now. And, really, does a new coach want to be overshadowed by his QB and does he really want the QB to call all the plays?

Where does he go? Worth noting that Arizona did pretty well with a veteran at a similar stage (Kurt Warner).

Say It Aint So

January 27th, 2012
10:55 am

HAHA- Kick Rocks.
Now, the days of the Manning family manipulating the NFL, ala Archie with Eli’s draft fiasco are in the rear view mirror. I bid good bye Jug Head. No wonder he had neck problems, wearing a 4X helmet with do that.

GTJason

January 27th, 2012
10:55 am

His endorsements trump the $26M 10 fold I bet. He has all of the best ones…

rduck

January 27th, 2012
10:55 am

Hate to see this all go down the way it has, but as you wrote Mark… that is the way of sports. There comes a time when an owner and a franchise has to do what is best for the organization, even if that means parting ways with a legend who may be passed his prime. Peyton is a class act and I wish him the best. Hopefully he will fully heal and maybe play again. But the Clots have to move on. Luck will be the man next year and I think he will do well.

matt

January 27th, 2012
10:59 am

Can we let Matt Ryan sit behind Peyton for a couple years?

Say It Aint So

January 27th, 2012
11:00 am

Theres no way if Peyton leaves as a free agent and sign with the Jets. NY can’t take 2 Mannings in the same town and share the same stadium.

abby normal

January 27th, 2012
11:01 am

It’s always difficult to see a class guy like Peyton Manning put in a situation like this. If it was me, I would call it a career, go out on my own terms. Why risk further injury at this point? He’s going to the HOF and certainly has nothing left to prove to anyone. I think he owes it to his family to walk away healthy.

SC Ace

January 27th, 2012
11:01 am

It would be, on the one hand, annoying as crap, but on the other hand, perfect in many ways, if Manning finished his career with the Titans. I mean, good lord think of the marketing for the team, the local buzz.

Die Hard Falcon

January 27th, 2012
11:02 am

I think it’s sad & foolish perhaps, only time will tell. If Peyton comes back and can play this year, the Colts should give him a couple of years to play and teach Luck, I think it really benefitted Rodgers to have those years behind Favre. Ryan, Flacco, Newton, etc. all played b/c they were the best option their teams had available on the roster, I say if they could sit and learn behind a future HOF’er, and there’s no doubt about Petyon and his knowledge, then it should be done. I won’t say that I hope the Colts flop, b/c Luck doesn’t deserve to be punished, but this is one of those bitter pills that are part of the NFL, just like Montana. Best of luck to Peyton and I really am hoping we get to see him play somewhere this year and that he gets to go out in a more dignified manner. If not, the Falcons need a QB coach and that would be phenomenal if he came here to fill that position. Just some wishful thinking I suppose.

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:04 am

It’s a business and the Colt’s would be fiscally irresponsible to do anything other than to cut Manning loose. Someone will sign him. I think a lot of Colt’s fans will say “Say it isn’t so” but deep down they agree. Wouldn’t it be fun to have Manning vs the Colt’s in a Superbowl down the road.

lanier

January 27th, 2012
11:04 am

he will go eleswhere and in 2 years win the SB Probably Miami

[...] between Manning and Colts?CBSSports.comWashington Post (blog) -NBCSports.com -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 1,207 news [...]

Gene

January 27th, 2012
11:05 am

Manning is a great player, who should retire rather than risk further injury. He has been more than dedicated to that organization and team and deserves better treatment. However, he is a smart guy and has the personality and knowledge to be an effective coach.

AM

January 27th, 2012
11:09 am

Peyton Manning will be in the Pro Football HOF one day. I’d love to see him play some more…in the meantime….GO GMEN!!

MountainDawg

January 27th, 2012
11:11 am

Peyton’s a shoe-in Hall of Famer, and doesn’t need to “prove” anything further. He should check his ego and retire (to safeguard his health). He can still make plenty of $$$ via endorsements, NFL analyst, etc.

GTBob

January 27th, 2012
11:12 am

This will be the biggest story in football next year. Bigger then Tebow. I personally hope Manning goes somewhere else and wins a Super Bowl.

Gator Mike

January 27th, 2012
11:14 am

His health will come first because he is a smart guy. Hopefully, he will be able to play 2 more years, but the Colts are probably not in the picture. If Peyton and Jim Harbaugh could work together, the 49ers would probably win a Super Bowl. However, Jim Harbaugh’s ego would probaqbly not allow Peyton in S.F.
Good luck Peyton!

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:16 am

matt January 27th, 2012 10:59 am
Can we let Matt Ryan sit behind Peyton for a couple years?
******************************************************************
In 08′ Manning was ranked 5th, Ryan 11th.
In 10′ Manning was ranked 10th, Ryan 11th.
In 11′ Matt Ryan was ranked 8th.

Matt Ryan will do just fine in 2012 behind a retooled O-line.

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:17 am

Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight won a thunderous standing ovation when he defended Paterno’s handling of the 2002 allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Paterno, he hinted, had been made a scapegoat.

“If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation and not in Joe Paterno’s response,” Knight said. Paterno’s widow, Sue, was among those rising to their feet.

Die Hard Falcon

January 27th, 2012
11:17 am

@GTBob –

I agree, if the Falcons aren’t in the running and he doesn’t go to a team I hate (I think most of them already have a QB) then I’d definitely root for Manning to go out on top, maybe Arizona, him and Fitzgerald (another class act) that would be pretty cool.

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:19 am

Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight “If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation”

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:20 am

FYI: Tebow isn’t much of a big story right now.

Die Hard Falcon

January 27th, 2012
11:21 am

@Sid –

Glad to see there are actual Matt Ryan fans on a Falcons team blog. I get so sick of defending him to all the haters on here who have illogically-based arguments as to why they think he sucks or is mediocre or whatever. MR2 is a top 10 QB and all fans of the Falcons should root for their QB. At the very least I shouldn’t be considered a “homer” b/c I God-forbid cheer for my own team and their QB, who by all empirical, factual data is a top 10 guy and a class act.

Cobb Dawg

January 27th, 2012
11:22 am

I wouldn’t assume that Peyton will necessarily play anywhere next year, even if he’s healthy. The guy certainly has enough money already, and frankly, his personality, work ethic and media appeal give him the ability to go way beyond football if that’s what he wants to do. There are a hundred different directions he could take with his life — will be interesting to see which one he chooses next.

Cobb Dawg

January 27th, 2012
11:22 am

And once again, great insights, MB.

slydog.

January 27th, 2012
11:25 am

He needs to retire just in case these last years get ugly. However, it would be sweet irony if he could be traded to the Jets, the Ravens (yeah, I said that), the Redskins, the Cowboys (especially after what Jerry Jones said, he may have tipped his hand), and maybe even Miami.

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:25 am

Jesus Christ January 27th, 2012 10:49 am
*******************************************************************

All hell, I thought I had more time!

1eyedJack

January 27th, 2012
11:27 am

Manning can put on his Hall of Fame Stetson and ride off into the sunset.

Gator Mike

January 27th, 2012
11:29 am

Cobb Dawg: Your assessment makes the most sense to me.

slydog.

January 27th, 2012
11:31 am

BTW, while Matt Ryan may not be an elite talent level QB, he is still good enough to win a Super Bowl. Kurt Warner wasn’t all that great throughout his career. What was he without a bevy of weapons and a great play-caller? A fumbling baffoon. Would you rather have Tony Romo? Jay Cutler, while I like his fire, he is a quitter and a cry baby. Matt Ryan has one problem: leadership. He needs to chew somebody’s butt out when they drop passes or when they blow protection. The other thing missing is lack of critical play-calling and no identity on offense. This is a run first team that needs a more explosive running back. Matt Ryan is not a QB you want to throw 40+ times a game.

harold

January 27th, 2012
11:32 am

THE ENTIRE VOL NATION IS WAITIN’ ON PEYTON TO RETURN TO TENNESSEE TO RESTORE THE GLORY. HE WILL BE THE HEAD COACH AT UT SOON!

Die Hard Falcon

January 27th, 2012
11:32 am

@slydog –

I don’t think Peyton would want to go into the turmoil of the Jets lockerroom and the media circus under Sexy Rexy. The Ravens wouldn’t make that deal I think unless they’re giving up on Flacco, which would shock me. I would be sick if he went to Dallas, I hate the Cowgirls, fortunately I don’t think it would happen w/ Romo there. Redskins make sense, Miami too, but from what I’ve heard Arizona & Seattle are being talked about in NFL circles, of course rumors are just that.

slydog.

January 27th, 2012
11:35 am

Manning would never go to Seattle or Arizona. If he went to the Jets, he would instantly unify that locker room, even though the media mess would annoy him. I see Miami, followed by Washington, with Dallas and Kansas City as dark horses.

Tumbledown

January 27th, 2012
11:36 am

The Colts during the Peyton era are the NFL version of the Atlanta Braves (the Braves of 1991-2005). Both teams advanced to the playoffs numerous times but had only one championship at the end of the day. Manning himself was the NFL equivalent of Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux. While the Braves had flaws in their offense and bullpen during their playoff run, the Colts also had many flaws outside of their QB that prevented the team from being a dynasty and were readily exposed during the past season.

Manning and the Colts should come to an amicable parting of ways. The Colts need to go in a different direction, and Manning deserves an opportunity to play for a contender if healthy. There is no reason for any animosity as a split will help both sides move on the next phase.

Vols85

January 27th, 2012
11:42 am

I don’t think that Peyton’s comments were intentionally meant to start any kind of drama or divide. I believe him when he lamented how hard it is to say good-bye to all the people you’ve worked with for so long in order to achieve such a successful run. If you’ve ever gone through a downsizing or outsourcing in the private sector you understand his reaction. Going forward it does sound like both Peyton and Irsay have learned from this exchange and will keep between themselves. Which leads to the multi milltion dollar elephant in the room.

Sadly, I don’t believe that Peyton will ever play again, not for the Colts or anyone else. I hope I’m wrong, but like Irsay said this isn’t an ankle or a shoulder. This is an injury which still hasn’t shown marked improvement after three surgeries and one that would be only one violent collision away from irreprable damage. I don’t believe the Colts or any other team will take a chance on a QB who will demand Peyton type money with this kind of health concern/red flag attached. Nor do I feel that Peyton, competitive as he is, would put himself through something that has such potentially long term harmful after effects. I believe Peyton’s current medical status will give the Colts a reason to save the millions of dollars and release him. Irsay states that it’s not about money, but that’s his turn at being a politician. EVERY decision in the NFL is made under the direction of money whether it’s new stadiums, network TV deals, merchandising, player contracts, or the cap. There is no way the Colts, and seriously who can blame them, are going to devote that much money to one position. It’s sentimental at best and foolish at worse. The Colts are old and have waaaay too many other areas on the team that need upgrading, not to mention free agents that they must make decisions on. So from a business point of view, and the Colts are a business, this elephant in the room that won’t heal just made their decision a lot easier. They need Peyton’s bonus money to dedicate to an upgraded roster along with a new, young, and healthy QB to take them into the next decade. But, boy would I love to be proved wrong.

Matt

January 27th, 2012
11:47 am

If Emmit Smith, Brett Favre, and Joe Montana can play for someone else so can Manning. He didn’t actually think they would give up the opportunity to be good for another 13 years on the hope that he MIGHT be able to get back to where he was and be good for another 2-3 did he???

Matt

January 27th, 2012
11:55 am

Harold- HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! GOOD ONE!!!

Steve

January 27th, 2012
11:57 am

Common Jets!!! Get Mark a tutor! Peyton’s gonna be available really soon.