- Associated Press - Friday, January 27, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NFL’s most watched offseason drama has turned stunningly ugly.

Two days after Peyton Manning complained about the dour atmosphere around the Colts’ complex, team owner Jim Irsay called his four-time league MVP a “politician” and said he didn’t appreciate Manning’s public campaign.

The comments upstaged the introduction of Irsay’s new coach, Chuck Pagano, and came six weeks before Irsay must decide whether to pay the still-recovering Manning a $28 million bonus. Manning missed the entire 2011 season after having his third neck surgery in September.

“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 Pagano’s introduction. “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 after Irsay responded to questions from reporters, Manning tried to dial things back by telling The Indianapolis Star 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.

“I just want to keep rehabbing and working hard, and when the time is right for Mr. Irsay and I to sit down, I look forward to a healthy conversation about my future. I’ve worked too hard and have such great respect and have so many great relationships inside the building and out, and it’s incredibly important that those remain.”

Clearly, Irsay wants the same kind of relationship.

But over the past month, the Colts have been as dysfunctional as a Hollywood marriage.

Irsay, the team owner, has fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of his staff over the last three weeks. Social media has suddenly become the platform of choice to update fans on pending decisions, to shoot down rumors or fan the speculation.

Last week, actor Rob Lowe caused a media frenzy by tweeting that Manning was about to retire. The story got so much attention even Pagano, who was busy preparing for the Ravens’ AFC title game against New England, noticed.

“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 get back to you on that one,” Pagano said when asked if he expected to be coaching Manning next season.

The newest twist could be the most damaging.

On Tuesday, Manning told The Star that his only really conversation with the first-time general manager Ryan Grigson had come in passing and the flurry of moves had those around the team complex walking on “eggshells.”

Story Continues →