Super Bowl 2012: Peyton Manning should take the high road out of Indianapolis

Mike Wise
Columnist February 4, 2012

Around 6 p.m. Thursday, soon-to-be No. 1 pick Andrew Luck made the rounds with the local television stations — smiling into each lens for his exclusive interviews with his future fans. Just then, curiously at almost the same time, a startling bit of news was broken:

Peyton Manning, Luck’s likely predecessor as Colts quarterback, had been cleared to play by a doctor.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Within seconds, NFL Network and ESPN reporters who had never attended medical school — and, like me, could not pass the MCAT entrance exam with House M.D. as their tutor — began theorizing about “nerve regeneration,” and whether Manning’s brain synapses had formed a neural connection with his triceps.

Over the next 24 hours, the most deserving Super Bowl stories were again put on hold: Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning; the nine coaching lives of Tom Coughlin and how he saved his job for the second time in five years; Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski trying to pull a Terrell Owens by playing through a debilitating foot injury; and the obvious: Giants-Pats II, a New York-Boston Redux for all the marbles in the NFL kitty just four years after they enraptured millions with an heirloom of an ending.

Thanks Peyton, thanks Jim — way to make this week all about your homeroom breakup. You couldn’t have waited till everyone left town Monday to pass notes in class?

This is unneeded, almost sad.

The NFL’s greatest ambassador the past decade, the reason Lucas Oil Stadium was built and Indianapolis was awarded a Super Bowl, can’t even let a kid like Luck have his moment without Team Peyton leaking news. He couldn’t allow Eli one week in the spotlight during his most impressive season. Especially after so many more years when Eli was compared unfairly to his future Hall-of-Fame brother.

Who knew such an accessible, thought-to-be grounded superstar — the self-deprecating pitchman who hosted “Saturday Night Live” with as much humility as humor — had this closet diva side to him?

This is becoming one of the more disappointing exits by an athletic legend since, yes, that text monster from Kiln, Miss.

Really, where did Peyton Manning get his Brett Favre Unseemly Retirement Starter Kit?

“I don’t think Peyton is Brett Favre,” said Ben Utecht, Manning’s former tight end in Indianapolis, who played on the 2007 Colts Super Bowl team. “This isn’t a guy who’s played in three cities and is going to go out like that. He’s not that guy. But, yeah, I could see the distraction part of it this week, how that doesn’t look good.”

Doesn’t look good?

If ever Mike Shanahan, who is said to be interested if Manning is released, had a reason beyond health to reject Manning as a possibility to be his next stopgap quarterback, he got it this week. A damaged-goods Manning is one thing; Peyton, the unmasked drama king, is another.

“This is just my advice,” Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs said when asked Friday in Indianapolis if the Redskins or anyone else should consider Manning. “I’m the fan now. I think what you need to install with him is just what he did at Indy. It needs to be that offense. If somebody takes him and tries to put him in a West Coast offense, throwin’ this or throwin’ that, or somebody else is calling the plays . . . the scheme they had fit him to a T.”

Between the lines, Gibbs was saying Washington or any team that took that gamble would also be hiring a new offensive coordinator named Manning. “Whoever gets him, you’re going to get a great player,” Gibbs added. “But it would be to that team’s advantage to put him in the same offense.”

But before Peyton can move on, he has to deal with the painful fact that his relationship with his only NFL team is coming to an end. In the same way Joe Montana felt he was cast overboard by the 49ers near the end of his career, Peyton at the moment has a right to feel unappreciated by the franchise he made matter.

He still should have waited until Monday to keep reminding everyone.

For a good part of seven days he’s been engaged in a spin war over his future with Colts owner Jim Irsay. It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of central Indiana that feels disturbingly like the battle for the hearts and minds of Green Bay a few years ago.

The quarterback is wounded and his franchise has all but moved on. The owner calls Manning “a politician.” They keep sniping — Manning through leaked media reports and Irsay through social media — over medical clearances by one doctor, non-medical clearances by the team, what it all means for his future.

On it goes. Manning’s agent on Friday guaranteed Peyton would play next season. Tom Condon did not say if his client would have the agility of G.I. Joe with a non-swivel arm or be fused together like Frankenstein.

Instead of red, white and blue confetti cascading down from the stadium’s rafters on Sunday, you half-expect propaganda pamphlets from both camps to hit the field.

Before kickoff Sunday, Eli Manning’s big brother needs to accept a hard truth: Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t Peyton’s place anymore. It’s not fair or right — in pro sports, it hardly ever is — but it’s over.

The best he can do now is search for a new team or retire with the same grace we came to know him by the past two decades. Before any more talk of “nerve regeneration,” Peyton Manning first needs a return to dignity.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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