INDIANAPOLIS – For all the things that are still up in the air, Peyton Manning is certain about this much: He isn’t ready to retire yet.
“I have no plans on doing that,” he said Tuesday.
Manning finds himself in a kind of limbo. The Super Bowl is being played in his town at the end of a season in which he didn’t play even one minute. An iron man for 13 seasons, he’s struggling to recover from three neck surgeries over the course of 19 months. A four-time MVP, he’s one of the game’s most recognizable faces. Yet it’s his shadow and the question of whether Manning will ever play again that looms over the season’s biggest game.
“My plan hasn’t changed,” he told reporters at a hotel after media day at Lucas Oil Stadium featuring the Giants and Patriots. “I’m on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I’m doing that. I’m rehabbing hard.”
All the attention focused on his condition is misplaced, Manning said earlier in a taped interview with ESPN. “I really don’t think it will be as the week goes on.”
A damaged nerve that caused weakness in his throwing arm prompted Manning to have surgery on his neck in May. He underwent his third and most invasive operation in September. Doctors fused two vertebrae together, a procedure that forced him to miss the Colts’ 2-14 season. Since then, Manning hasn’t been able to escape the spotlight.
There has been rampant speculation about his recovery, the potential risks of a return, whether the Colts will pay Manning a US$28 million roster bonus in early March to prevent him from becoming a free agent or whether the soon-to-be 36-year-old might quit playing.
The ongoing saga has spilled right into the first Super Bowl week in Indianapolis.
While the marquee story line was supposed to be Manning’s brother Eli versus Brady, it’s the older Peyton who continues to make news.
Following last week’s public spat with team owner Jim Irsay and the ensuing make-up, Irsay joined the city’s mayor, the Indiana governor and host committee officials at Monday’s news conference to discuss game week. Irsay wound up taking most of the questions and, of course, most focused on Manning’s future. He also said he didn’t want to discuss the Manning situation again this week.
On Tuesday, Manning was the chatty one.
Shortly after about 5,000 fans watched more than 1,000 reporters spend two hours interviewing Patriots and Giants, Manning delivered the third part of media day with an impromptu appearance in front of a small group of reporters. His motive was to turn the attention away from him and back to Sunday’s game and his brother’s quest to win a second Super Bowl ring.
That didn’t work too well, either.
“I’m working hard, I had a really good session today,” Manning said after throwing to several teammates. “I continue to make progress and work hard. The doctors are encouraged and that’s encouraging to me.”
Manning smiled throughout the 10-minute interview and looked happier and more vibrant than he has in months.
Not everyone is paying attention to the diversion.
“Oh you meant Eli? I got it now,” Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton said when asked about coming to Indy with Manning in the headlines.
Most Colts fans, meanwhile, have enthusiastically backed Eli in hopes of sending the dreaded Patriots home empty-handed again from Indy. And Eli chimed in, too.
“Peyton has had an unbelievable career. Since I’ve been watching football, I haven’t seen anybody play at a higher level than he has,” Eli said. “It has always been my goal to get to his level of football, to get to his level of play. That is something that I’ve worked on. I’ve watched him in situations and I’m just amazed on some of the throws and plays he’s made in his career. I try to ask as many questions and get as much help from him as I can.”
Says Peyton: “I’ll be rooting hard for the Giants. I’ve always wanted nothing but the best for Eli and I hope he breaks all of my records.”