INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indianapolis Colts are a long, long way from being healed.
Two days after Peyton Manning publicly complained about the dour atmosphere at team headquarters following a 2-14 season and a rash of firings, Colts owner Jim Irsay introduced his new head coach and then stunned everyone by calling his franchise player a “politician” who had decided to air dirty laundry.
“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, referring to the team’s longtime logo. “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.”
The comments suggest there is a rift between Manning and Irsay, who is just six weeks from a deadline to pay the four-time league MVP a $28 million bonus or risk losing him as a free agent. And it all blew up in public on a day the team desperately wanted attention focused on Chuck Pagano, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator who takes over as head coach with a host of problems to address.
The biggest question mark is Manning, the face of the franchise and the primary reason for its run of success over the past decade. He is clearly upset with the fallout of the Colts‘ dismal season in which he never played a down after Sept. 8 neck surgery _ his third such procedure in a span of 19 months.
In the past three weeks, the Colts have fired vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of Caldwell’s assistants. Irsay hired 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as the new general manager and on Wednesday chose Pagano as Caldwell’s replacement.
Last week, actor Rob Lowe caused a media frenzy by writing on Twitter that Manning was about to retire. The story got so much attention that even Pagano, who was preparing for the Ravens’ AFC championship game against New England, apparently took notice.
“You know, I’ve got a text or a call out to Rob Lowe and I haven’t heard back yet, so I’m going to have to get back to you on that one,” Pagano said when asked if he expected to be coaching Manning next season.
But the saga has taken an even more dramatic twist in the last 48 hours.
Manning told The Indianapolis Star that his only real conversation with Grigson, a first-time GM, had come in passing and that the vast overhaul at team headquarters had everyone “walking around on eggshells.” He said it wasn’t healthy for his healing, and then said that he had no idea where Irsay stood on the question of whether he was going to play again for the Colts.
Many analysts believe Manning’s comments indicated that he was unhappy in Indianapolis and may be looking for a way out.
Whatever the explanation, Irsay didn’t like it one bit.
“I have so much affection and appreciation for Peyton. I mean we’re family. We always will be and we are,” Irsay said. “He’s a politician. I mean look at, when it comes to being competitive, let’s just say on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, we’re both 11s, OK? So there’s been plenty of eggshells scattered around this building by him with his competitive desire to win.”
Manning quickly began on a quest to mend fences.