If you ask Jim Irsay about the Peyton Manning era, it's clear that he thinks it still has plenty of life left. I'm inclined to agree. I've been counting the days, waiting for Manning to hit the practice field and show all of the doubters (and there's a lot of them) that he is indeed healthy enough to continue his illustrious career. He's the epitome of a workaholic and I still maintain the faith that Manning will once again sit behind Jeff Saturday and lead this team back to it's elite and once feared form. He's Peyton Manning and that's just how he rolls. Through talks with the press on Thursday, Irsay stuck to his guns and still believes Manning has at least "2-3 years" left on his football ticker, among other things. Irsay may seem a little cooky at times, but whatever setting Irsay speaks through regarding Manning, it's clear that when you read or hear his words, Irsay really believes in #18 and will always maintain his allegiance and respect. He refuses to count this guy out, but he's not blind or in denial either. The upcoming months will define this organization, for better or for worse.To say that Irsay couldn't be more appreciative and thankful for everything #18 has done for this franchise, Indianapolis, and the NFL, from entertainment to revenue, is probably an understatement. As we all know, Manning was at the forefront of completely rejuvenating football in Indianapolis and has dropped a lot of money and pride into the pockets of Irsay. That much is obvious. With that taken into consideration, we cannot forget about what Irsay has also contributed to this paramount effort over the last decade. He afforded Indianapolis the opportunity to plant seeds in all of the right places (Bill Polian being the first), allowing this place to flourish and eventually bloom into a NFL powerhouse. I think that sometimes gets overlooked because of Manning's greatness, but it shouldn't. People will always doubt the front office and the decisions they make, and rightfully so. However, I can say that I'm confident enough in Irsay, his respect for the fans, this city, and the game, to take the appropriate course of action in the remaining months of 2011 and beyond. His love and affinity for Manning will not get in the way of making a logical decision, like some have suggested. That being said, Irsay told the media on Thursday that the Manning era is still alive and breathing, despite what some may believe.
"I think it's too early to bury this era," Irsay said during a 40-minute interview. "I think to say that Peyton is done and the era is over is, to me, way, way too premature. I've always sort of known that era would be decided when Peyton is here. But I don't feel like that era is done."
Irsay is seemingly confident in Manning's rehabilitation success and eventual return. However, don't think that drafting Andrew Luck hasn't crossed his mind (or any QB, for that matter), along with the obstacles that will follow.
"It's something you talk about and scenarios, who could be behind Peyton and how long you want him to sit and how much money you have committed to quarterbacks," Irsay said. "I think theoretically, you could have Peyton for two or three more good years and then have someone behind him, but that's theoretical."
As for Manning returning to live action in 2011, Irsay believes that Manning has "less than a 50% chance", but isn't closing the door, quite yet. This opinion does not align with Polian, who said during his weekly radio show that Indy has been saving Manning's roster spot so he could return to practice, but not play. Even though less than 50% could be interpreted in plenty of ways, it's clear that Irsay wants to see what Manning can do to help ease his decision regarding the future, along with Bill and Chris Polian. In what capacity they will actually get to see Manning perform in 2011 remains to be seen. If Manning does in fact take the field later this year, it could anger a lot of fans, and it's not because they've thrown Manning to the curb. First off, he could potentially revitalize this struggling ball club and rack up a winning streak, essentially killing any chance at the top pick. Also, the future well-being of his health could once again be jeopardized by game situations. Any perceived "bad scenarios" on the field could be even more amplified by a ridiculously unhealthy offensive line. Practice will obviously be the strongest indicator regarding Manning's progression (Manning thinks practice is the "greatest platform"), but it might not be enough for Irsay. Getting #18 on the field and letting him feel out game situations could give Irsay the distinct look at Manning and his ability to put the ball where it needs to be via live action. The key factor in Manning silencing any critics or doubters, regardless of where he does it, will be a complete and totally rejuvenated return to his previous arm strength. If he can make the throws, that's all anyone needs to see. However, despite the naysayers and their feelings about a 2011 return, Manning would certainly like to seize the opportunity to get back on the field in 2011.
"I miss playing, I really do. If I get cleared to play and I'm good enough, would I play? Absolutely," he said. "I'd love to because that's how I'm wired, that's my job and I love my job. "If the doctor says you can go, then I'd like to do that," Manning added later.
Why Manning would like to suit up raises many questions. It could be for the reasons I've mentioned, or any of the other one trillion possible scenarios. Maybe Manning wants to show that he's still the guy and drive home the point that all of this Luck talk is the last thing that he and the Reggie Wayne's/Robert Mathis' want to hear. Winning games is very important to these guys and I doubt any of them are worried about the Colts' draft position right now. Could Manning be trying to build a case for Irsay and the Polians to use the top pick in favor of filling other glaring absences of talent within this team? We can only speculate and it's certainly hard not to, but I definitely can't see it being personal with Luck, or his possible future NFL career as an Indianapolis Colt. Last week, Phil Simms stated on one of my favorite shows, Inside the NFL, that Manning would "not let" the Colts draft Luck. Obviously Phil was talking out of his butt and providing his own opinion on the matter (that's what the show is for), but Manning didn't seem to like Simms' suggestive remarks very much.
“Yeah, I don’t talk to Phil. Phil doesn’t talk to me. He did text me after that, saying ‘Hey, sorry to drag your name into this.’ I wrote back, ‘Phil I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He said, ‘Well on my show, Inside the NFL, I made this statement.’ I said, ‘Phil, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t watch your show, along with a lot of other people that I don’t think watch that show.’ Giving himself a little more credit than probably was merited.
Ouch. While myself and a lot of others may enjoy watching Inside the NFL on Wednesday nights, Manning obviously doesn't. Regarding what Simms said, it's his opinion and it may be speculative, but it's not entirely ridiculous either. I think what makes the most sense about Simms statement is the fact that fans are incredibly impatient. If Manning were to return and his health issues evaporated, what if he simply can't get it done on the field and you have an eager Luck awaiting his shot on the pine? Will Colts' fans start chanting for Luck if things go sour? I'd surely hope not, simply because that would be a total insult to a franchise savior and infinitely classless. This is Peyton Manning we're talking about here, not Kyle Orton. If he's fully capable of making the throws he's used to, I have no reason to believe that this team isn't once again going to be elite. However, it's too hard to predict a "fan's" reaction these days, as Simms suggested. As for the hot topic of Manning's rehab progression, Manning doesn't have anything "earth-shattering to report", but he's continuing to take it day by day and simply hoping for nature to take the favorable course. Despite his optimism, Manning is still having "some of the same issues I had before the fusion as far as the nerves and the regeneration." What about the total outlook of his injury and the planned course of action?
“There’s really not a schedule and there’s really not a timeline. It’s sort of how I am at different check points. I really think I would say the first of December is probably the next check point. That will be three months from the surgery. See where I am from the strength standpoint at that time, from a conditioning standpoint. I just can’t give a prediction of where I’m going to be. I don’t think anybody really can because as I’ve said all along, this injury is one that is a little bit unpredictable. You think positively about things being good at that time, but I really can’t tell you where they will be at that time.”
As always, uncertainty still remains the largest part of this whole injury process. This obviously has to bother Manning, not knowing how much water the future of his career accurately holds. So as fans continue to miss Manning and the mark he leaves on every game day, Manning feels the same.
“All I know is I like playing. I enjoy being out there. I miss being out there in the huddle. When I’m on that sideline looking out at the huddle, even though I’m probably just 25 yards from the huddle, it feels like I’m a million miles away. To all of a sudden have a chance to be back out there, sure I’d like to do it. Any natural competitor, any player that’s been through injury would tell you the same thing. I’m no different. We’ll just see what the situation will be come next month.”
Get healthy, #18. Despite whatever the future may hold, it will be a great day when Peyton starts tossing the pigskin around again. Go Colts.