When the words left ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen's mouth, an entire city collectively sighed. Peyton Manning, the face of the franchise for 14 seasons, the heartbeat of the Indianapolis community, the man who brought the city a championship and built a stadium and hospital wings will never again don the helmet with a horseshoe.
Few professional sports relationships these days last long. In the billion dollar "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" world of the NFL, few individuals, players or coaches, ever go out on their own terms. The feel-good ending of John Elway riding into the Mile-High sunset is the exception to the cruel rule: this is business where one thing matters: winning. It matters to owners and to players, and that's why Peyton Manning won't be playing for the Colts any more.
Contrary to all the reports back in the Fall that Manning's leaving was a fait accompli, the parting of player and team in this case has traveled a tortuous road to an end that none would have even imagined a year ago.
A year ago, Manning and the Colts were dejected, having been bounced from the playoff by the New York Jets, but nonetheless confident that they could fill the holes needed to continue their dominance of the AFC South and continue to battle for another Super Bowl. Manning had a minor neck procedure that needed to be done, at least as minor as neck procedures get. Several other NFL players had undergone the spinal fusion surgery and successfully returned, many of them defensive players for whom high impact collisions were a reality on nearly every play, not just the occasional sack.
There was a lockout in place, however, meaning that Manning and Colts were effectively cut off in their communications. To make matters worse, there were complications from the first procedure that needed to be "cleaned up" with a follow up procedure. All this was going on under the blackout of the labor impasse and with Manning still without a new deal to return to the Colts.
When the lockout finally lifted, the Colts and Manning cobbled together a luxurious deal that would keep him a Colts for the rest of his playing days. Peyton allowed the deal to be backloaded with a large payout in 2012 lest the Colts be nervous about his neck. The deal also freed up more money in 2011 for the team to get some pieces around the quarterback.
But Manning's recovery wasn't going as he had hoped. The lockout was over, training camp was over, and Manning wasn't ready to go. In an effort to salvage at least part of 2011, Manning had another procedure on his neck. The Colts, meanwhile, were caught flat footed. Their failure to prepare for an injury to Manning had left them ill-prepared for life without him.
We all know what happened next. Both the Colts and Manning held out hope he would eventually return to the field in 2011, but that never came to pass. The nerves damaged during the neck surgeries weren't regenerating. Manning's arm strength was a fraction of what it once was. Behind the combination of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, the Colts limped to a 2-14 record, the worst in the NFL, which set up the final piece of this surreal puzzle: Andrew Luck.
As if the lockout and the surgical complications hadn't skewed the situation enough, now the Colts were staring face to face with an opportunity to grab Luck, the closest thing to a "sure thing" at quarterback since…. Peyton Manning in 1998. In some strange, warped way, fate had aligned the circumstances to set up a divorce between Indianapolis and Manning.
Had the Colts won just one more game, had they held on against Kansas City, had they not lost to Jacksonville at home, had Dan Orlovsky started more games at quarterback… had any of those things happened, we wouldn't be having this conversation now. But they did.
To his credit, Jim Irsay tried to make it work. He was sincere when he said it wasn't about money, but about Manning's health. This week, finally convinced that it would be safe for Manning to return to the field, multiple sources confirm that Irsay put on the full court press to keep Manning in Indianapolis. The $28 million wasn't the issue. Irsay had just paid Manning almost that much to stand on the sideline with an earpiece. It was the backloaded contract, the one that looked perfect back in August. There was no question that Irsay needed to rebuild his team. He was content to do so while transitioning at quarterback, but the $90 million owed Manning for his final three years simply wasn't feasible for his franchise.
For his part, Manning tried, too. He let it be known earlier that he would be willing to restructure his deal, although that was said during a time when Manning's rehab timeline was considered much longer than it is currently. Once Manning started to get the old "zing" on his passes and felt that he was able to be Peyton Manning again, he realized something else very important: he had enough left in the tank to win a championship.
With brother Eli getting his second ring, Peyton's desire was stoked. He knew quite well that his chances of getting that second ring with a rebuilding Colts' squad were slim. He had always wanted to finish his career in Indianapolis, but there were too many obstacles in the way on both sides to make that possible.
So here we are. Tomorrow, Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay will take the podium together for the final time. We had all hoped that would be while both hoisted another Lombardi Trophy and confetti rained down around them. Instead of the Superdome or some other championship venue, this final appearance together will take place at the Colts facilities on West 56th Street. Manning will be clad in a suit, not shoulder pads.
Related VideosReturning Soon!!!!
No related posts.
Short URL: http://sport-ne.ws/b32