ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Thanks to the musings of his former owner, Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis this week has turned into something less than the warm-and-fuzzy homecoming it could have been.
If any of that bothers No. 18, it’s not showing.
Dictating the terms of his Wednesday news conference as effectively as he orchestrates his offense from the line of scrimmage, Manning paid virtually no heed to this week’s comments from Colts owner Jim Irsay, while heaping plenty of praise on his former team and its fans.
“I don’t have an answer for you on that, or any comment on that,” was Manning’s response to the first, predictable question of his news conference — the one asking for reaction to Irsay’s comments about giving up the old Indy offense’s “Star Wars” numbers in a quest for more Super Bowl rings.
As for his 14 years in Indianapolis and the bittersweet parting Irsay engineered after Manning missed the 2011 season with shoulder and neck problems — well, Manning has no regrets.
“I’ve learned that in life you need to be at peace with other people’s decisions that affect you that you have no control over,” he said. “That’s good advice I’ve had over the years and it’s certainly served me well in this particular scenario.”
Earlier this week, Irsay talked to USA Today about Manning’s tenure in Indianapolis, which produced one title, another trip to the Super Bowl, 11 playoff appearances but seven one-and-done postseasons.
“That leaves you frustrated,” Irsay said. “You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the ‘Star Wars’ numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love” winning Super Bowls.
That triggered a strong response from the usually bland Broncos coach, John Fox, who on his national radio show Tuesday called Irsay’s comments a cheap shot that was “disappointing and inappropriate.”
Others chimed in, including Tony Dungy, Fran Tarkenton, Manning’s former college teammate Todd Helton and his former general manager Bill Polian, all of them taking Manning’s side in one way or another. With that, the game that was supposed to be a Manning love fest suddenly felt like something much different.
But when Wednesday at the Broncos and Colts headquarters rolled around — the first real day of preparation for Sunday night’s game — it was as if somebody flipped the “boring” switch back on.
Irsay backtracked, saying his comments were taken out of context and that he’d reached out to Manning — though he didn’t get a call back.
“He’s a historical icon and a great friend and I know what he’s meant to our organization. My respect for him is immense,” said Irsay, who also referred to Manning as “the most loved Ind Colt of all time” on Twitter.
Fox insisted on moving on from his radio comments, which had only served to fan the fire.
“Those were yesterday’s comments,” he said. “Any comments moving forward will be relative to the game in Indianapolis.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who never coached Manning in Indianapolis, steered clear of any controversy.
“I don’t think there is anybody that Mr. Irsay respects and cares for more than Peyton,” Pagano said.
As for Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck, he said he had no problem with Irsay’s desire to win not just one, but multiple Super Bowls.
“If you play 15 years, you win 15 Super Bowls. That’s what you want. You want high expectations,” Luck said.
About the only one who didn’t have anything to say about the brouhaha Wednesday was the man at the center of it.
Manning, showing a first-name familiarity with Indianapolis media that he hasn’t quite cottoned to yet in Denver, deftly walked the tightrope between the importance of remembering his roots while staying focused on taking the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t play there anymore, but I’ve continued to communicate and I’ve enjoyed those times when I see someone from Indiana in a hotel or an ‘18’ Colts jersey out here at practice,” he said when asked what he’d like to say to Colts fans. “There’s always a connection there. I think to have to deliver a message means I’ve been gone and I don’t think I really have.”
In what might be the most symbolic show of how Irsay really feels about Manning, the Colts have planned a video tribute to their former quarterback during Sunday’s pregame festivities. A number of Manning’s former teammates are expected to attend.
Asked repeatedly how he’ll feel walking back onto his old home field as a visitor, Manning said, “I can’t tell you that right now.
“I’ll probably know after the game but I may not tell you that after the game, either,” he said. “It’s just too hard to predict.”