Lucas Oil Stadium has been called “The House that Peyton Built.” It has been suggested by many that, were it not for the success of the Peyton Manning-led Colts, the franchise would have been relocated to Los Angeles years ago. Peyton Manning is universally accepted as one of the best players in NFL history, and is – without a doubt – the greatest player in the Indianapolis Colts 28-year history.
All of those facts, combined with the roots Manning has willingly and eagerly planted in Indianapolis, makes one question the Colts organizational decision to treat Peyton Manning as if the mere mention of his name would elicit a reaction of Beetlejuice-ian proportions. If you have listened to the three “Grigson Era” press conferences: the Grigson hiring, the Caldwell firing, and the Pagano hiring, you have noticed that everyone in the Colts management team – owner and CEO Jim Irsay, General Manager Ryan Grigson and Head Coach Chuck Pagano – is more willing to mention their personal lives, their crying habits, and Rob Lowe’s twitter account than Peyton Manning’s name.
“There’s not any sort of bad situation around here for healing or anything like that,” Irsay said. “That’s not a correct perspective. Like I said, keep it in house, in our family. Talk to each other if you have problems. We’ll work it through hand-in-hand and continue to talk as we get closer to the league year.”
“I don’t think it’s in the (best) interest to paint the Horseshoe in a negative light,” Irsay said. “I really don’t. He’s such a big part of that. The Horseshoe always comes first. One thing he’s always known, and he’s been around it so long – you keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem, talk to each other. It’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”
First, one should note the obvious irony of Irsay telling Peyton Manning to “keep it in house, in our family,” while talking to the press at length about the situation. If Irsay wanted to keep it “in house”, his response should have been something along the lines of, “This is a trying time for everyone in the Colts family, but like a true family we will get through it together. I will sit down and talk with Manning about his concerns, but I won’t be discussing it in the media.” It would have, in many ways, sent the same message, while completely avoiding any chance at creating a back-and-forth media battle between Irsay and Manning – a battle, by the way, Irsay will never win.
Second, and more important, if there is a sense of “campaigning” and of politics, if Manning is trying to draw some attention to himself through the media, Irsay needs to look no further than himself for the person to blame.
By employing the off-season strategy that Irsay and the Colts PR staff have chosen, pushing a singular theme in the 2012 off-season: a “New Era” of Colts football, designed to “return the Colts to greatness”, the Colts seem to be in a rush to move on from “the last era” while sweeping Manning and many “Classic Colts” under the rug. And honestly, doesn’t the entire notion seem just a bit melodramatic and insulting? The Colts, in an injury-plagued season, suffered their first non-playoff campaign since the 2001-2002 season. Doesn’t the suggestion that one disastrous, injury-riddled season marked the “end of greatness” show a complete lack of understanding of what true greatness is?
Put yourself in Manning’s shoes for just a moment. You’re one of the greatest players of all time. You have a deep and profound understanding of history and of legacies, and your legacy and place in NFL history is, despite what you say publicly, very important to you. Up until September of 2011, you knew that you would own every NFL record, and you truly felt that you would win at least one more championship before you retired.
Now it’s January of 2012, and the doctors are unable to tell you if – not when – you’ll regain the full use of your arm. You may never play in the NFL again. You’re about to witness the one Super Bowl match-up where, regardless of the outcome, your “legacy” and “star” will be (wrongly) diminished. And, to top it off, the team you turned into a perennial contender, the team whose brand you grew, whose owner you made rich, has unceremoniously decided trade you in for the younger model and move into a “new era.”
No praise, no warmth. None of the attention you so richly deserve at this point in your career. It was a business that made you rich and famous for 13 fabulous years, and it is a business that has now decided to move on without you.
Are you saying you wouldn’t be angry? That you wouldn’t be a little upset about the environment and the situation?
Honestly, no one is saying that Irsay should be forced to keep Peyton Manning. With the questions surrounding Manning’s health, it’s an unreasonable demand to place on anyone, regardless of what Manning means to the team and the fans. But by ignoring him, by treating him as persona non grata, you are not only insulting Manning, but the millions of fans that have fallen in love with him.
Would it have been so difficult for Irsay to say something to the effect of, “Peyton Manning is the greatest player in the history of this franchise – and perhaps the entire NFL – and he deserves our thanks, our respect, and our time, and we will treat him accordingly throughout this process, no matter how difficult it may be.”
And while Ryan Grigson, a seemingly good person, clearly wants to show that he, not Peyton Manning, is in control, by openly declaring that you have yet to get in touch with Manning, you’re either sadly disrespectful of Manning, or “afraid” of him. In either case, ignoring Peyton Manning did not come off as a sign of Grigson and Irsay’s strength, but a glaring weakness.
The Indianapolis Colts are moving into a “New Era”, one that is unlikely to include Manning and several other Colts greats, but in their rush to “return the team to greatness”, they are missing the whole point: what good is returning to greatness if you don’t take time to celebrate it?