|FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2012, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. Shortly after introducing Chuck Pagano as Indianapolis' new coach, team owner Jim Irsay responded to the comments Manning made earlier this week about the Colts by referring to the only four-time league MVP as a "politician." (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)|
Manning, Irsay insist they are on same page
INDIANAPOLIS—Peyton Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay insist they are just fine after a week filled with complaints and comments suggesting a rift had developed following one of the most miserable seasons in team history.
"We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us," the two said Friday in a statement issued by the team. "Since 1998, we have enjoyed a great relationship, based upon mutual respect and trust. We have always been able to talk and address matters we've faced over the years, not just as owner and player, but as friends.
"We had a long talk today and we want to assure Colts fans everywhere that we are both committed to maintaining our close relationship and to working together through any challenges the future may bring."
That would be welcome news to Colts fans, who first watched Manning publicly complain about the down-in-the-mouth atmosphere at team headquarters and then two days later saw Irsay call out his franchise quarterback at a news conference intended to focus on the new head coach.
It's been a dizzying week.
On Tuesday, Manning told The Indianapolis Star that his only real conversation so far with the new general manager Ryan Grigson had come in passing and the flurry of firings had those around the team complex walking on "eggshells."
Irsay didn't like that Manning went public with his frustrations and he said so Thursday, calling Manning a "politician."
"I don't think it's in the best interest to paint the horseshoe in a negative light, I really don't," Irsay told reporters following Chuck Pagano's introduction as coach. "The horseshoe always comes first, and I think one thing he's always known, because he's been around it so long, is that, you know, you keep it in the family. If you've got a problem you talk to each other, it's not about campaigning or anything like that."
Apparently, Manning got the message.
Just a few hours later, Manning told the newspaper that he didn't intend to create a public spat. Instead, Manning said he was speaking from the heart after watching so many of his friends lose their jobs.
"At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally, and I think we will. I've already reached out to Mr. Irsay," Manning said. "I wasn't trying to paint the Colts in a bad light, but it's tough when so many people you've known for so long are suddenly leaving. I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we've done great things together. It's hard to watch an old friend clean out his office. That's all I was trying to say."
And Irsay tweeted after that: "Peyton and I love each other,that goes without saying..I humbly serve n protect the Horseshoe..it is bigger than any individual,including me."
Whether the two have mended their misunderstanding, there are still huge questions pending. Irsay must decide by March 8 whether to pay Manning a $28 million bonus. Manning missed the entire 2011 season after having his third neck surgery in September.
Irsay just this month has fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of the staff. Pagano, the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator this past season, is just getting started, as is Grigson.
Indy's poor season has given it the No. 1 overall pick, which Irsay has said they will use for their quarterback of the future, presumably Stanford's Andrew Luck. If so, Irsay must decide if he wants to pay a No. 1 quarterback and Manning, who signed a five-year, $90 million contract in July and will be 36 in late March.
Irsay has said his choice will come down to Manning's health, not money.