Wiedmer: Colts buck Manning? Whoa!

Wiedmer: Colts buck Manning? Whoa!

March 7th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

In this Jan. 16, 2010, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning waves as he walks off the field after the NFL divisional football playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens in Indianapolis. The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis is expected to end, according to a report. Citing anonymous sources, ESPN reported Tuesday, March 6, 2012, that the Colts plan to hold a news conference Wednesday to announce the long-expected decision. Manning is expected to attend. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Peyton Manning is no longer an Indianapolis Colt? And you still think this whole 2012 Mayan Apocalypse stuff is a bunch of hooey?

OK, so most of us have been waiting for this to become official since the first bite of our post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches. Given the $28 million Manning would have been due Thursday, it really never made much sense for Colts owner Jim Irsay to write that check not knowing if Peyton's surgically repaired neck would be healthy enough to make him Indy's starting quarterback again for the 2012 regular-season opener.

Irsay may or may not have been merely spinning the news when he said two months ago: "The key thing for me has always been -- and particularly since the [neck] fusion -- is it safe for [Peyton] to go on the field?"

But even if was public relations, it's not just P.R. Whatever the YouTube video showed this past weekend regarding a quarterback appearing to be Peyton tossing perfect 45-yard spirals, there was no angry rush coming after him at that time, a potential bounty hunter looking to send Manning off on a stretcher.

Maybe Irsay really wants nothing more than to save himself a few million to be used for expected No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback who many believe may be the most complete QB to hit the NFL since Manning arrived in 1998.

And hard as that cold, calculating, emotionless decision would be to digest for those who've spent the past 14 years following Perfect Peyton -- basically idolizing the guy who's pretty much the overwhelming reason the majestic Lucas Oil Stadium exists, the only player in league history to be a four-time MVP, the fellow who did what John Elway couldn't do at the same stage of his Hall of Fame career: carry a pretty mediocre cast of characters to Super Bowl glory -- well, if that's Irsay's wish, it is his team. He can do what he wants with it.

Still, this is Peyton Manning, arguably as good as anyone who's ever played the toughest position in team sports, whether his single Super Bowl ring makes that an easy argument to sell or not.

Just as it would never have been right to see Larry Bird in anything but Boston Celtics green, just as the final sign the Mayan Apocalypse is upon us would be Derek Jeter donning anything but New York Yankees pinstripes, 35-year-old Peyton should have retired a Colt.

Moreover, Irsay should have found a compromise to make that happen.

Then again, maybe it really is all about Peyton's long-term health with Irsay. Maybe he wants to make sure he's in no way complicit should a bounty hit leave Perfect Peyton a paraplegic -- or worse.

But now it's done. Whether it's safe -- or smart -- for Peyton to return to "playing the game he loves" (as Duke coach and former UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe noted last month), he's going to try.

And ESPN analyst Tom Jackson wasted no time injecting the most outrageous scenario possible.

"You hear hints of Miami," he said Tuesday evening, "but I would love to see him crosstown from this brother Eli in New York City."

Talk about saving the struggling newspaper industry in the Big Apple. You put Peyton on the New York Jets while Eli is attempting to earn his third Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants and you'd have New Yawkers clamoring for Manning headlines every day of the year.

Heck, it might even make smart business sense to start another paper -- "The Manning Messenger" -- devoted to all things Peyton and Eli. "Saturday Night Live" could even make them offseason cast members, especially Peyton, whose 2007 appearance as the show's host just might be one of the five funniest episodes ever.

Not that former Colts general manager Bill Polian believes Peyton would ever approve of such a deal.

"He'll want to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to winning," said Polian, who just joined ESPN. "He's not about publicity. It won't be the most glamorous place. It will be the place he feels has the best situation for him to win another championship."

Take away the places blessed with quarterbacks nearly as talented as Manning -- the Giants, the New Orleans Hit Men (Drew Brees), the Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers) and New England Patriots (Tom Brady) -- and it's hard to see almost anyone else not trying to woo Peyton.

In fact, if I were the Tennessee Titans, I'd make Peyton say no to me before he said yes to anyone else.

But regardless of where he plays, let's all hope and pray that the next time Peyton's career takes a turn, he exits under his own power, rather than on a stretcher because some thug decided to earn bounty money breaking No. 18 in two.