Ashley Fox | ESPN.com
Without Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts would not have been relevant for more than a decade. Without Peyton Manning, the Colts would not have won 11 AFC South titles or produced 11 seasons with double-digit wins.
Without Peyton Manning, Lucas Oil Stadium would not have been built. Fans would not have eagerly bought season tickets or merchandise. Sponsors would not have devoted major dollars to supporting the team.
Without Peyton Manning, the Colts would not have won a Super Bowl or played in two. For 13 seasons, Manning was the franchise. He was the horseshoe. Manning is why people cared, why fans watched, why teams feared the Colts and why the franchise won.
Jim Irsay should kiss the ring Manning won for him and not bemoan the fact the Colts did not win more. He should respect the game, the process and how hard it is to win one championship. Plenty of other owners would kill for one ring. All Irsay needs to do is ask Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
But instead of cherishing the championship Manning delivered in Super Bowl XLI, Irsay picked this week to reiterate how disappointed he is that the Colts exited the playoffs after one game seven out of the 11 times Manning led them there. He picked this week to reiterate that the Colts have changed their organizational philosophy about how best to chase a championship with their new quarterback, Andrew Luck.
Irsay picked this week — the week that Manning returns to Indianapolis for the first time since the Colts discarded him — to take a subtle slap at the greatest player in franchise history.
Sure, Tom Brady has won three rings with New England. You know what that makes him? Unique. Special. Fortunate.
Drew Brees has won one. Aaron Rodgers has won one. Manning has won one. The fact those quarterbacks don’t have more does not diminish what they have accomplished. They are among the greatest players in the game. They are winners, champions and yes, special, too.
But Irsay told USA Today Sports that the fact New England won three Super Bowls with Brady and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens have won two since 2000 “leaves you frustrated.”
“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times,” Irsay said. “You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this ring.”
Irsay sounds like a man who is trying to justify jettisoning Manning when clearly Manning had more to offer the Colts. Irsay made the decision to let Manning go following the 2011 season. He was the one who decided it was too risky to stick with Manning after four neck surgeries and a missed season. He incredibly let Manning hit the waiver wire two years ago and become the most sought after free agent in NFL history.
It was the right decision for the long term given that Indianapolis had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and Andrew Luck was available. Even so, Manning has proven with his play in Denver that he can still operate at a ridiculously high level. Through six games, Manning has put up record numbers. He is still the Manning of old. He is still winning. He is still dominating.
And Manning is leading a team that is far and away the front-runner to win the Super Bowl.
On Wednesday via Twitter, Irsay backpedaled from his statements, but the damage was done. Former Colts president Bill Polian weighed in, telling SiriusXM NFL Radio, “It’s pretty telling that getting to the Super Bowl in (Irsay’s) mind doesn’t count.” Former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy told ESPN’s Ed Werder: “Without Peyton, there would be no Lucas Oil Stadium. This team would be playing in L.A. right now.”
Denver coach John Fox, who never says anything that isn’t calculated or thought out, told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Irsay’s comments were “a bit of a cheap shot” and “disappointing and inappropriate.”
Manning never wanted to leave Indianapolis. Despite what Irsay has said, Manning didn’t want the Colts to draft Luck. He tried to come back late in 2011, if only to play in red zone situations, so that he could help the Colts win games, which would have improved their record and made drafting Luck unlikely.
Manning is a historian of the game. He wanted to play his entire career with one team. He didn’t want to be like Joe Montana or Brett Favre and have to start over with another franchise in the twilight of his career.
Most of all, Manning wanted to try to win the Colts and Irsay another ring. He wanted to continue chasing a championship in Indianapolis. Manning wanted to win two, or three, or four, because he was not satisfied with having won only one, either.
Irsay didn’t let that happen. Irsay let Manning go. Irsay decided it was time to move on, that the path to a Super Bowl would be better forged with another player under center.
That is his prerogative. But instead of being frustrated by having won only one championship with Manning, Irsay should kiss the ring he does have and remember Manning is the man who delivered it.
- ESPN.com NFL columnist
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Has also worked at Sports Illustrated, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Louisville Courier-Journal