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Irsay insists, again, that he and Manning are fine

Maybe, just maybe, the Colts and Peyton Manning are done stealing headlines during Super Bowl week.

They might save the real news for later.

The simmering spat between Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay bubbled up Thursday night, when Manning's surgeon sent out a statement saying the star quarterback had been cleared to play.

Irsay responded on Twitter in the wee hours before dawn Friday, declaring that: "Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts" -- a terse statement that suggested Manning might have yet worn out his welcome in Indianapolis.

Then for the second straight Friday, Irsay tried to patch things up.

"Peyton Manning, Jim Irsay and the entire Colts family remain close and unified as we continue to work through all the options that relate to his future with the Colts," the owner said in a statement that included a color photo from Irsay's party that was taking place at about the same time as the controversy erupted.

The photo shows Manning, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Irsay, former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, actress Meg Ryan and singer John Mellencamp. The controversy didn't stop Manning from visiting an inner-city school Friday. Manning did not take questions at the event.

Manning's agent, Tom Condon, told the NFL Network that the four-time league MVP would play in 2012, a point Manning made perfectly clear when he told reporters Tuesday that he did not plan to retire despite missing the entire 2011 season after having his third neck surgery in 19 months.

But the wild swings in the league's most-watched drama have been an overarching theme throughout Indy's first Super Bowl week.

And the ongoing soap opera has actually upstaged both weeks of buildup to Sunday's game between the Giants and Patriots -- a matchup that pits Manning's brother, Eli, against Manning's archrival, Tom Brady.

Even Goodell was asked about it Friday.

"I'm not troubled by it at all," Goodell said. "I don't think it's been a distraction."

Really?

Manning's neck injury has seemed to make more news this week than his younger brother's quest to win his second Super Bowl ring, Brady's quest to win his fourth and even Rob Gronkowski's injured ankle, much less Madonna and the rest of the celebrities in town.

No. 18 jerseys are still a favorite around Indy, though a billboard on an highway reads "Peyton you're going the wrong way," a clever ad by a group in Tennessee that wants him to join the rival Titans.

Some Colts fans aren't ready to let Manning leave. They may not have a choice. He will turn 36 in late March and the team that just went 2-14 must decide whether to pay him a $28 million roster bonus on March 8 or let him become a free agent.

"It would be incredibly sad to see him go and I'd hate to be Irsay. I want him to stay," said Keith Harden, a 51-year-old Indy native who was wearing a Reggie Wayne jersey. "No, I don't think it's hurt his (Manning's) image. I think he's fighting to stay, and I like that."

Those close to Manning insist he is healthy and will be ready to play this fall.

"He is sound, he can take a hit, he can certainly play in a football game," Condon said. "How effective will he be? Probably not as effective as he would be in two to three months."

Irsay has repeatedly said the decision about Manning's future will be based on health, not money, and he has said he doesn't want to risk exposing Manning to a long-term injury.

Complicating matters is that the Colts hold the No. 1 overall draft pick and they are expected to select either Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III as Manning's successor.

Having two high-paid quarterbacks wouldn't just be costly, it could stifle the rookie's growth. And Luck says he wants to play right away.

Despite Irsay's public statements, the big question is whether Manning is coming back..

The city's most powerful celebrity and the Colts' fun-loving owner engaged in a public spat last week when Manning complained about the dour atmosphere at the team complex following the ouster of coach Jim Caldwell and a host of assistants. Irsay responded by calling his quarterback a "politician," then tried to mend fences with a joint statement issued a week ago. The hope was that it wouldn't spill over into Super Bowl week.

Instead, the story only picked up steam in a tit-for-tat between the two.

On Monday, Irsay said he would not talk this week about Manning. The next day, Manning told reporters his recovery was on schedule and there was no plan to retire. The owner responded by saying he would wait until next month to make a decision about the bonus.

That was followed by Thursday's bizarre late-night fireworks and there's no telling when it might end.

While most players, coaches and visitors will depart Indianapolis on Monday, the questions about Manning and his future will continue to linger.

"Jimmy and Peyton have had a strong relationship for a really long time," Condon said. "They've been great friends besides the business relationship. But this is a tough time, there is potential that you could be separated from a team he's been a part of for a long time."