Keeping Score

Super Bowl 46: A Break From Peyton Manning

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Sam Riche / MCT / Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning watches his team play on Sunday, December 18, 2011, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indianapolis

So, it seems that on Sunday, people are going to take a break from obsessing about Peyton Manning’s future with the Indianapolis Colts to watch a football game. This game is apparently called the Super Bowl, or something like that.

The New York Giants and New England Patriots will be facing off in Super Bowl 46 on Sunday evening, but here in Indianapolis, the game has served as a sideshow to the talk about Manning: and of course we’re referring to Peyton, the guy who didn’t take a single snap for a 2-14 Colts team this season, not Eli, his little brother, who is actually playing in the game. You would have hoped that both Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay, plus their various representatives and handlers, would have kept a low profile over these past two weeks, and kept the focus on both the two Super Bowl teams and Indianapolis, which has shined as a host city. But they’ve both been far from mum.

Peyton Manning’s future with the Colts is in question. He’s 36, and he missed all of last season with neck injury that has already required three surgeries. Because of their lousy performance in his absence, the Colts own the top pick in the 2012 NFL draft and have already said they will pick a future franchise quarterback: most likely Stanford standout Andrew Luck, or possibly Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, from Baylor. The Colts owe Manning a $28 million bonus come early March. Before that bill comes due, will the Colts release the face of the franchise for the past 14 years, the man most responsible for the team’s success, the building of Lucas Oil Stadium, and the arrival of the Super Bowl in Indy? Is Manning even healthy enough to play?

(MORE: Why The Colts Should Pass on Peyton Manning)

The posturing began a day after championship games that sent the Giants and Patriots to the Super Bowl. Manning gave an interview to the Indianapolis Star in which he lamented the abrupt firings of Bill Polian, the team’s longtime president, and coach Jim Caldwell after the 2-14 Colts season. “It’s 20 degrees, it’s snowing, and the building is absolutely empty except when you see coaches cleaning out their offices,” Manning told the paper.  “I guess it’s the reality of the football world, just not something I’ve had to deal with very often. But I’m in there every day, so I have to sit there and see it. Everybody’s being evaluated and I’m no different. It’s not the best environment.”

Jim Irsay took to Twitter to express his not-so-subtle irritation.

In an interview with reporters, Irsay called Manning a “politician,” and admonished Manning for taking his frustrations public. “If you’ve got a problem, you talk to each other,” Irsay said. “It’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”

Then, earlier this week Manning gave a one-on-one interview to ESPN in which he made clear he has no plans to retire from football, despite the predictions of actor Rob Lowe. On Wednesday evening, word leaked out – presumably from Manning’s camp – that Manning’s doctors have cleared him to play. Instead of rejoicing that one of the best quarterbacks in history would be back, Irsay again took to Twitter to douse a flame, this time at 1:25 am Thursday morning: “Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts.”

You can picture Eli Manning in a corner, raising his hand: “Hey, hey, everyone – remember me?”

Even some Colts fans, consumed with questions about Peyton’s future all season, are tired of the Irsay-Manning quarrel. “I do think the focus should be on the Super Bowl right now,” says Sharon Melancon, a retired claims processor who was scoping out football celebrities, while wearing a Colts jersey, in downtown Indianapolis Friday afternoon. “This other stuff can wait. It’s not like he’s fixing to go out and play right away.”

Indeed, Manning’s corner could have saved the medial clearance news until after Eli goes for his second Super Bowl title – which would give him one more than Peyton – on Sunday. Peyton comes off as a Type-A older brother unwilling to cede the stage, even if that’s not his intention.

All the Payton prattle, however, could help Eli on Sunday. “What he’s dealing with right now, he’s been dealing with all his life,” says Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who now works for the NFL Network.  “It’s being Peyton’s little brother. So now he’s in Peyton’s town, on the biggest stage, and he’s still Peyton’s little brother. It’s the thing that has motivated him forever. It’s good for him that he’s still dealing with it, because right now, deep down inside – though he’s loves his brother – he’s a competitor. He thinks, ‘Man, I’ve done all this, and I still have to be the little brother. I’m tired of this. But let me go out there and compete, and at least today, maybe I can get a little justice.’ That’s what football players do. They stack the world against them.”

MORE: Five Ways To Seem Smart About the Super Bowl

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