The idea about the Indianapolis Colts being the first home team in the Super Bowl didn’t seem so outlandish when the city was awarded the game in 2008.
The Colts had already won a Super Bowl behind Peyton Manning and were regulars in the NFL playoffs.
Then Manning got hurt. And the Colts collapsed quicker than a castle made of sand.
Now, on the eve of what was supposed to be a glorious week in Indianapolis, the home team is a dysfunctional mess.
A joint statement issued on Friday by Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay claimed otherwise, though that was to be expected. The dirty laundry aired publicly the previous few days was so distasteful that something had to be said to get the attention off the home team and back on a game that means so much to the city’s pride.
Irsay says it was all a misunderstanding. Surely not anything that a good talk between friends — or, say, a payment of US$28 million owed to Manning — couldn’t resolve.
Manning got the talk. Whether he gets the cheque will ultimately determine just how friendly the owner and his quarterback really are.
The Colts seem ready to move on without the face of their team, a player so valuable that they may not have been able to build their new stadium without him. Manning transformed a woeful team into a perennial playoff contender, taking the Colts to two Super Bowls and winning one. The prospect of even better times ahead helped Indianapolis residents swallow the increased taxes they were forced to pony up for the new $720 million stadium, which opened in 2008.
The NFL gave the city a Super Bowl as a reward, something that seems to have boosted civic pride even if few area residents will actually get inside Lucas Oil Stadium for the event. As an added bonus, it gave Colts fans a chance to forget about the pitiful 2-14 record this season that was doomed the moment the first rumours about Manning’s health began circulating during the summer.
But Irsay couldn’t stop firing people. Manning couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
And instead of happy chatter about the Super Bowl coming to town, the buzz in Indy in recent days has been a definite downer.
There’s a Manning playing in the Super Bowl, but it’s the wrong one. And the chances of Peyton Manning — still recovering from three neck surgeries — playing another down for the Colts seem to be about as good as the chances Indianapolis ever lands another Super Bowl.
He’s owed $28 million by March 8 if the Colts are to keep him, but that’s just part of the problem. The Colts are almost sure to use their No. 1 draft pick on Stanford University’s Andrew Luck, and it doesn’t make much sense to be paying millions of dollars to two different quarterbacks — especially if there’s no guarantee Manning will even be healthy enough to play again.
In Irsay’s defence, there’s no real template on how to handle this. Money aside, he still has to think about the future of the team, and that future likely doesn’t include an aging and suddenly fragile Manning.
Irsay already sacked much of the front office and the coaching staff, something that clearly upset Manning. He’s in the midst of rebuilding the Colts, and has to be looking at Luck as the new face of the team, much like Manning was when the Colts picked him No. 1 in the 1998 draft.
That it came down to the owner and the superstar sniping at each other this week was perhaps inevitable. Decision time is coming, and it’s becoming increasingly clear what that decision has to be.
Odds are Manning is done playing for the Colts, perhaps even done playing in the NFL entirely. Those reading tea leaves surely noted that the joint statement Manning and Irsay issued on Friday contained no reference to Manning playing for the team again, no reassurance that he was healing and would be able to play quarterback again.
For the next week the big question in Indianapolis will be who wins the Super Bowl.
For Colts fans, though, there’s an even bigger question to be answered once the game is over.