Nothing is more insufferable in sports than an owner who doesn’t know his place. Let me state right here, right now, that in the total scope of the Peyton Manning Era in Indianapolis, Jim Irsay’s role in that run was on the approximate level of Blue, the anthropomorphic horse that serves as the Colts mascot.
Manning was the maestro. Bill Polian was the architect. Tony Dungy was the coach. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Edgerrin James were the playmakers. Irsay listened to Led Zeppelin.
But with Manning returning to his old home this weekend as the rampaging megastar of the Denver Broncos — amid what should be, barring injury or alien capture, the greatest quarterbacking season in pro football history — Irsay is mounting an egomaniacal campaign to emphasize he has bigger plans for the Colts under Andrew Luck than what Manning achieved in his 14 seasons there, which was a hell of a lot. In an incredibly rude and disrespectful series of comments, Irsay told USA Today he was “disappointed” by the Manning era, saying, “We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these.” He was pointing to the sole Super Bowl championship ring on his hand, the one Manning got him in Miami seven seasons ago, which Irsay views as a burden more than a blessing because he’s a greedy and unappreciative SOB.
“(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these (rings),” Irsay said. “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 and Reggie. Mostly, you love this (ring).”
What a way to welcome a hero home, by nailing him with a flurry of sucker punches. While it’s true Manning underachieved in Indy as a championship quarterback, and it’s true that Brady has won three rings with the Patriots while Manning’s inconsistent brother has won two with the Giants, it can be argued the Colts often didn’t surround Manning with enough title-level help. He lost early duels to Brady because the Patriots had better all-around teams. As for the Colts’ failure in their most recent Super Bowl, in 2010, you might say they were outcoached when Sean Payton opened the second half with a successful, momentum-shifting onside kick, helping propel the Saints to a championship. Under Manning, the Colts made the playoffs nine consecutive seasons and won 12 or more games in seven straight seasons. Through it all, he won four league MVP awards.
That wasn’t enough for the heavy-metal rocker with the overactive Twitter feed. Nothing is wrong with aiming for more rings, but the way Irsay has chosen to frame the quest — he will accomplish more with Luck in Irsay’s paradigm than Manning did in running his own show — is appalling. It reminds me of how the Jordan dynasty was wreckingballed prematurely in Chicago, with owner Jerry Reinsdorf declaring he wanted to launch his own dynasty. Fifteen years and too many losses later, the Bulls have yet to sniff an NBA championship.
Staying above the fray, of course, Manning wouldn’t directly address Irsay’s comments, but did say, “I’ve learned that in life you need to be at peace with other people’s decisions that affect you that you have no control over. I think that’s been good advice I’ve had over the years and it’s certainly served me well in this particular scenario.” Well played. If I were him, I wouldn’t participate in the Irsay-mandated tribute to Manning before Sunday night’s game. Irsay doesn’t deserve Manning’s presence.
Peyton is trying to keep emotion out of the Sunday equation, saying, “It’s hard to predict how I’ll feel emotionally. How I’ll feel walking into the stadium, I can’t tell you that right now … may not tell you after the game, either. It’s just too hard to predict.” And he’s enough of a leader and gauge of humanity that he knows many of the Broncos and Colts could “care less” about his Indianapolis days.
“Fifty-two other guys are counting on you, coaches are counting on you,” Manning said.
He isn’t one to respond with crossfire, preferring to make Irsay pay with, oh, a 52-spot in Lucas Oil Stadium, the massive downtown fieldhouse that once featured a larger-than-life Manning likeness. But Broncos coach John Fox did have Manning’s back in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“I saw the comments. And to be honest with you, I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot,” Fox said. “To me, in my opinion, they were disappointing and inappropriate. Peyton would never say anything. He’s too classy to do that. They sounded a little ungrateful and unappreciative to me. For a guy who has set a standard, won a Super Bowl, won four MVP awards … be thankful of that one Super Bowl ring, because a lot of people don’t have one.”
It was clear two offseasons ago, when Irsay told Manning he was releasing him with his career in jeopardy after four neck surgeries, that tensions existed between them. At one point, Irsay referred to Manning as a “politician” as Peyton said goodbye to Indiana. Manning was stunned and hurt by it all, figuring he deserved some loyalty and love even as he was leaving. No one can blame Irsay for wanting to use the No. 1 pick last year on Luck, who is 13 years younger than the 37-year-old Manning and is destined for a wonderful NFL career himself. But there’s no need to downgrade Manning’s epic feats just because the transition has worked in Indianapolis. If Manning indeed told Irsay to draft Luck — “He said, `You’ve got to take Andrew. You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t,’ ” Irsay recalled –it demonstrates his dignity and selflessness in a sensitive time. It’s important to note that Manning wanted to return to Indy, and that he made that comment to Irsay only after it was decided he would leave and become a free agent.
Polian, now an ESPN analyst, seemed most annoyed by Irsay’s comments. Pointedly, he said he only would deal in facts, a direct shot at Irsay’s loose perspective. “For one thing, I don’t believe that Baltimore had two (championships) at the time that we were fired, all of us, Peyton, me and the rest of the staff, (coach) Jim Caldwell at the end of the ’11 season,” Polian said. “I think it’s pretty telling that getting to the Super Bowl in his mind doesn’t count. And for anyone who is in the game and who has to make that journey from training camp to the Super Bowl, you know that it’s awfully difficult to get there. As John Fox said, if you have one, you count yourself lucky. I’ve had teams that have been to six Super Bowls and won one. I’m not ashamed of that record by any means, and I’m certainly not ashamed of what we did in Indianapolis.”
Also rushing to Manning’s defense was Dungy. “Jim’s making this personal. I’m surprised.” he said in a text message to ESPN, adding that he thinks Irsay is trying to rattle Manning and diminish his performance this weekend.
“Without Peyton, there would be no Lucas Oil Stadium,” Dungy told ESPN. “This team would be playing in L.A. right now. I don’t understand Jim saying this.”
Dungy, for one, thinks Irsay “in hindsight” would have kept Manning. “I can tell you it wasn’t a no-brainer,” the NBC analyst told Denver Post. “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 (Manning’s health being in jeopardy then). 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 … 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.”
What is his game, then? To protect himself from further embarrassment as The Moron Who Dumped Peyton Manning?
Of Luck, Manning said, “He’s an extremely talented player. Not only did he play well his rookie year, he’s used it to his advantage to be even better this year. He’s off to a hot start. Our defense is in for a tough challenge. That offense is capable of scoring a lot of points.”
NBC. Nothing But Class.
Not that Luck and the Colts coaching staff aren’t worlds behind Manning in 2013. They laid an egg in a Monday night loss in San Diego, where it was obvious the offense should stop straining to achieve run-pass balance and start turning Luck loose as a passer. Know this, Jim Irsay: Just 20 months after you told Manning to find another team, he has thrown for 22 touchdowns and 2,179 yards so far this season. As Manning stays on pace to break Brady’s single-season TD pass record and the Broncos remain poised to break the all-time league scoring record, the Colts managed three field goals the other night. In what was a slight shot at Luck, who was featured heavily in ESPN promos for the game, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said, “I wasn’t sure who the Colts were playing this week (from) all the ads I saw.”
Said Luck, who was victimized by drops and a Colts defense that couldn’t get off the field: “We stunk on third down today. A lot of credit to their defense. I think we made our fair share of mistakes, but I think it’s what they did. If we can’t convert third downs and drives continually stall like that, it’s a short rest for our defense and no points for us, so it’s a bad combination.”
Doesn’t sound like the owner should prepare for a ring fitting in February. What a shame that Peyton Manning can exude class, Andrew Luck can exude class, and Jim Irsay can be such an ass.
Here’s hoping payback comes in the form of eight TD passes.