Peyton Manning casts large shadow over Super Bowl
INDIANAPOLIS – For a Manning who isn't in the Super Bowl, this one sure is making headlines.
It happened again Tuesday, when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning denied whispers that he was pondering retirement.
"I have no plans on doing that," he said.
It's the strongest indication that, despite having his third neck operation in September, he hopes to play in the NFL when the new season kicks off later this year — something the league is happy about.
"My plan hasn't changed," he said. "I'm on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I'm doing that. I'm rehabbing hard."
The NFL would prefer to keep the focus on this week's juiciest story lines -- Giants quarterback Eli Manning trying to outdo his older brother by winning a second Super Bowl; Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick chasing their fourth titles and maybe exacting a little revenge for their loss to New York four years ago.
But as everyone knows, this is Peyton's place, his town, and fans hang on every detail of his recovery.
"It's not the way it should be," he said earlier Tuesday in a taped interview with ESPN.
The Colts ended their most tumultuous month in more than a decade with another flurry of moves.
Team officials confirmed Tuesday that they had hired Bruce Arians, Manning's former quarterbacks coach, as offensive coordinator, and Harold Goodwin as offensive line coach. They also fired tight ends coach Ricky Thomas and assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince.
The whirlwind of changes began Jan. 2, the day after the Colts clinched the No. 1 overall draft pick with a league-worst 2-14 record. Irsay has since fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, and dismissed coach Jim Caldwell and most of his staff -- a series of changes that prompted Peyton Manning to voice his complaints two days after the conference championship games.
Two days later, Irsay called Manning a "politician," fueling a public spat that drew national attention. The two tried to put out that fire before the team's scheduled arrivals, but the fallout has continued into this week.
"I would think he's very uncomfortable, especially with the Giants here and Eli," former Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "When you get to a Super Bowl, even though it's the second (recent) one for the Giants, you want the focus to be on that achievement. He would much rather have the focus on Eli and what they've done to get here, and unfortunately, that's not going to happen."
If there were any doubts, they were answered in a strange 24-hour period that began with the host committee's news conference Monday.
Irsay joined the mayor, governor and two committee officials to discuss game-week preparations, but wound up taking most of the questions, nearly all of which focused on Manning's future. Afterward, Irsay said he didn't plan to discuss the Manning situation again this week.
On Tuesday, Manning piped in.
Shortly after the NFL's annual Super Bowl media day event ended, Peyton Manning met with a small group of reporters with the idea of turning the attention back to Sunday's game.
That didn't work too well, either.
"I'm working hard, I had a really good session today," Manning said after repeatedly being asked about his rehab. "I continue to make progress and work hard. The doctors are encouraged and that's encouraging to me."
The four-time league MVP hasn't played in more than a year because of a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his throwing arm. He had neck surgery in May, then underwent his third and most invasive neck surgery in 19 months in September. Doctors fused two vertebrae together, a procedure that forced him to miss the Colts two-win season.
Since then, there has been rampant speculation about his recovery, the potential risks of a return, whether the Colts will pay Manning a $28 million roster bonus in early March to prevent him from becoming a free agent or whether the soon-to-be 36-year-old might retire.
"My plan hasn't changed," Manning said. "I'm on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I'm doing that. I'm rehabbing hard."