INDIANAPOLIS – It's of little surprise that the Peyton Manning-Jim Irsay relationship would continue to splinter. Statements to the contrary, these two simply don't appear capable of coexisting any more.
They could have at least made it through the Super Bowl ceasefire though.
Word broke Thursday, via ESPN, that Manning had been "medically cleared by two doctors" to resume his football career after missing the entire 2011 season because of a neck injury. The report eventually included an email from Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed a neck procedure on Manning, saying as much.
The news sent the football world into a tizzy over the potential ramifications. Would the Indianapolis Colts still draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in April? Would Manning become a tantalizing trade prospect and wind up on a contender? Where would he end up and in what kind of shape?
Then Irsay, the Colts' outspoken owner, snuffed it early Friday by tweeting: "Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts."
And so on it went: Once more, the Colts and the future of their signature, sure-bet Hall of Fame quarterback becoming the talk of Super Bowl XLVI.
So much for the pair's joint press release last week that was intended to "dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us."
Manning and Irsay haven't had many direct discussions of late but are scheduled to have dinner together (along with other NFL folks) at a pregame party Sunday. Who knows how that scene plays out.
Irsay's late night tweet, which came after he held a raucous 500-person party (guests included John Mellencamp, Meg Ryan and other celebs) at the Indiana Capitol, had the appearance of annoyance. It was a sharp rebuke of the "cleared to play …" angle that almost everyone assumes was leaked out of Manning's camp – unless you believe Manning's doctor would discuss his recovery without his patient's permission.
[ Related: Irsay tweet casts doubts on Manning's progress ]
Yahoo Sports first reported earlier in the week that even if he is "cleared to play" he doesn't possess the strength to throw the ball with the necessary velocity.
The entire thing could be just semantics in an ongoing soap opera.
Perhaps most telling is that this is still the news of the day even as Indianapolis continues to excel at hosting its biggest event ever, a title game featuring no less than Manning's younger brother, Eli, of the New York Giants against the New England Patriots.
Couldn't the "cleared to play" story have waited until next week – especially when there appears to be enough confusion that not even the Colts are acknowledging its accuracy?
"Jim and I will talk at the right time," Peyton Manning said on Tuesday. "[Right now] there's nothing to talk about."
Manning also said Tuesday that he had spent the morning at the Colts' practice facility in a very promising training session which included throwing to two Indy receivers, Anthony Gonzalez and Blair White. He insinuated his rehab work was continuing each day.
"I'm having fun and I'm doing what I need to be doing," Manning said.
Other than that, he said the focus should be on the Super Bowl and the city of Indianapolis.
"All the other talk," Manning said, "it is what it is."
Well, apparently not. The fate of Peyton is of importance here both historically (he made this franchise matter with his arrival in 1998) and competitively (if he's really healthy, all sorts of things could change).
Everyone knows that, which is why as news drops out and the denials get sharper, the attention grows and grows. It is what it is, as Manning said.
Irsay had already put Manning on blast last week when he ripped the quarterback as "a politician" for discussing the state of the Colts in the Indianapolis Star. Irsay felt Manning was trying to get fans on his side in case there is an eventual split.
Irsay chastised Manning for not "keeping it in the family."
"If you've got a problem, you talk to each other," Irsay told reporters. "It's not about campaigning or anything like that."
By Friday morning, he was issuing pointed tweets and promising further press releases. They clearly hadn't talked to each other about this news development.
The family dynamic is over here. The chances of Manning ever wearing a Colts jersey again, whether he is indeed "cleared to play", is increasingly remote. The tension appears real, no matter the joint statements.
These two can't seem to manage to even keep this quiet through the big game and allow the focus to fall on Manning's brother and the city both men hold dear.
You can all but forget next season.
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