It’s on. It’s sooooooooo on.
“The Return of Peyton Manning to Indianapolis” story line that will gobble up the week and dominate “Sunday Night Football” has taken a sour, snippy, soap-opera turn…and the week really just gets going today.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Denver Broncos Coach John Fox fired back at Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay over tough-love comments the talkative Colts owner made about his former quarterback to USA Today. In that interview, Irsay seemed to denigrate Manning’s accomplishments in Indy because he won only one Super Bowl. Kind of lowers the sincerity level of the Colts’ planned Manning tribute Sunday, doesn’t it? Manning’s new coach had his back.
“I saw the comments and to be honest with you I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot,” Fox said in an interview with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “To me, in my opinion, they were disappointing and inappropriate. I mean, Peyton would never say anything. He’s too classy to do that. But they sounded a little ungrateful and unappreciative to me for a guy that has set a standard, won a Super Bowl, won division titles, won four MVP awards. I’d be thankful with that one Super Bowl ring because there’s a lot of people that don’t have one.”
If it seemed as if the coach of the 6-0 Broncos was on the offensive, that’s because he was. Those comments clearly stung…most likely with No. 18 himself.
Irsay touched this off by revisiting Manning’s departure and the decision to cut him with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. Manning, he said, told him he “had” to draft Andrew Luck and told him “you’d be crazy not to.” This much is certain: The parting of Manning and Irsay about 19 months ago was emotional, no matter how clearly each party may have realized it had to be. Manning was coming off multiple neck procedures and was due a large payout ($35 million) with his health far from certain and the team needing to be rebuilt. The Colts, with Manning missing all of the 2011 season, had the chance to go younger, cheaper and healthier by taking Luck with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Irsay, in Bell’s story, sounded appreciative of all Manning had done for the franchise…right up until he dropped that bling zinger.
“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay said, flashing his Super Bowl ring. “[New England’s Tom] Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these. Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.
“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne]. Mostly, you love [championships].”
On Tuesday afternoon, Tony Dungy, Manning’s former coach in Indy, weighed in with an alternate version of the events of March 2012. “I can tell you it wasn’t a no-brainer,” Dungy told the Denver Post’s Mike Klis of the decision to release Manning. “I was on the phone with Jim Irsay probably five or six times over a month as it was leading up to that. He knew all those factors [age, surgeries, big payout] that you just enumerated there. But Jim also had a great deal of loyalty. Jim was a young boy when his dad traded Johnny Unitas. So he knew the ramifications of this type of decision. And he also knew how much Peyton had done for the city of Indianapolis and for that franchise.
“So even for all the reasons you just stated why it should be done, I don’t think it was ever a no-brainer in his mind and I can almost guarantee you that if he knew he was going to be healthy like this and playing this kind of football, in hindsight I don’t think he would have done it.”
By Tuesday evening, Irsay was tweeting and quoting Manning.
On Wednesday morning, he kept tweeting:
Irsay may well have had a point about the Super Bowl rings and it seems rather pointless to rehash this now. But the Colts didn’t do his young players any favors as they come off a poor performance in a loss Monday night and must prepare, on a short week, for the emotional return of Manning as well as the return on defense of Von Miller, who’d been suspended the first games of the season. The last thing the Colts need is for Manning whose return figured to be challenging emotionally, given his “I’ll always be a Colt” press conference, to suddenly turn into angry, focused, cold-blooded QB. Chances are Fox was thinking something along those lines, too, before he went on the radio.