Sodapop Curtis did not announce Peyton Manning's retirement. Whether or not Manning's neck heals months from now will determine that. He did make it clear – in a strange way – that Manning's 12-year run with the Indianapolis Colts is almost assuredly done.
Last week actor Rob Lowe went citizen journalist and tweeted that "Manning will retire today." Lowe cited "my people" and later claimed the info came from a "pretty darn good source."
It turned out to be completely inaccurate, but that hardly matters. That one ridiculous tweet by the man whose first major cinematic role was Sodapop the greaser in 1983's "The Outsiders," caused the Colts' usually tranquil world to implode.
On Monday, Manning broke his silence and delivered an interview to columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star that was stunning both in its timing and depth. Manning doesn't do many exclusive interviews and he never criticizes the Colts, but here he was describing a beaten-down mood around the facility, questioning personnel moves of owner Jim Irsay and setting the groundwork with fans that if he winds up gone, it wasn't his choice.
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Irsay responded on Thursday, chastising Manning for taking his complaints to the newspaper and calling him "a politician."
"I think one thing that he's always known, because he's been around it so long, is you keep it in the family," Irsay said at the conference announcing the hiring of Chuck Pagano as head coach. "If you've got a problem, you talk to each other. It's not about campaigning or anything like that."
Keep it in the family?
First off, let's slow down and analyze this delicious soap opera/feud/final days of one of the great NFL empires. By discussing it at a news conference, Irsay violated his own policy of keeping it in the family. He also completely overshadowed the introduction of the new coach. The hiring of the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator barely resonates when a Hall of Fame quarterback and his once tied-at-the-hip owner are sniping at each other. Irsay is smart enough to know that.
This goes back to Rob Lowe though.
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His tweet came out of nowhere. How could a Hollywood actor deliver one of the biggest scoops in football? This was a story no other reporter saw coming. Why would Manning announce his retirement in mid-January, when he had plenty of time to see if his neck would heal fully? And why would he do it just a few days before his brother played in the NFC championship game, upstaging the game and having his own rather big news lost in the hype of the week?
The story was immediately shot down by everyone: Manning's agent, Manning's father, even Irsay, who coyly made fun of Lowe.
When news is about to break – say a coaching hire – there can be dozens of potential sources that dozens of reporters are working in hopes of getting tipped off first. It could be the coach, his agent, the general manager, the new team, the old team, whomever. In this case there wasn't anyone in the know because Manning wasn't retiring. This wasn't the case of one source jumping the gun or being confused.
This was a "reporter" jumping the gun and being confused.
Rob Lowe is friends with Jim Irsay. Very good friends. Such good friends that when he tweeted his scoop, everyone's natural reaction is that the word must have come from Irsay.
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The conversation covers (among other things): Tom Brady's recent big-game struggles, his overall greatness and his fierce motivation to win a fourth Super Bowl; Bill Belichick, the NFL's last anarchist; how Tom Coughlin has taken on his team's personality, not vice versa; and whether or not Eli Manning is considered "elite," there is no questioning his toughness and heart anymore.
That includes no less than Peyton Manning. Here's what Manning told Kravitz:
"I never thought 'Sodapop Curtis' would announce my retirement," Manning said. "I always thought I would be the one to announce it.
"I'm a huge fan of the movie, but that caught me way off guard. I can't explain it. I know he is a friend of [owner] Jim's [Irsay], and Jim sounded surprised."
Jim sounded surprised.
Which means Manning heard about the tweet and asked Irsay if he had been talking out of turn to his buddy about Manning's future. Irsay has denied he was the source. Lowe went on Rich Eisen's NFL Network podcast and also denied his "pretty darn good source" was his buddy Irsay.
"It wasn't Jim or anyone close to Jim," Lowe said.
Does anyone believe that?
Does anyone think Rob Lowe not only has not one "pretty darn good source" around the Colts (Irsay would certainly qualify as that) but at least a second "pretty darn good" source who, quite incredibly, would be privy to Manning's future yet somehow isn't even "anyone close to Jim"?
Is that even possible?
Peyton Manning is a pretty smart guy. Way too smart to buy that coincidence. This might explain why, once Irsay seemingly took it "out of the family" and to Lowe (in some form), Manning decided he should speak up also.
So there he was last Monday, finally responding to Kravitz, who had been seeking an interview for nearly a week.
He even made public his suspicion that Irsay was the leak to Lowe. Remember, Manning has been dealing with the media almost his entire life, nothing he says is by accident.
He also delivered an honest assessment of life inside the Colts' facility, where, as Manning put it, morale was low because everyone was on eggshells wondering who was going to be fired next. Since the season's end, Irsay had canned the team's vice president, general manager, head coach, a slew of assistants and even the strength and conditioning coach who Manning was rehabbing with each day.
"I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that," Manning said. "It's not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least."
That seems reasonable. Only on Thursday Irsay tried to claim it's inaccurate.
"There's not any sort of bad situation around here for healing or anything like that," Irsay said.
Well, sure, the employees may perk up when the boss on a firing spree comes into the room but it's absurd to not think the place was being rocked when so many longtime employees got let go.
That doesn't mean Irsay was wrong to fire them. The Colts needed a change, needed fresh blood. It's naïve and arrogant however to suggest that it doesn't have an impact on everyone left behind.
After Irsay blasted Manning, the quarterback responded again via Kravitz on Thursday night, calling for calm.
"At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally," Manning said. "And I think we will."
Here's how it's going to work out. Peyton Manning will be cut from the Indianapolis Colts prior to the March deadline that calls for the team to pay him $28 million. Manning, if he is healthy, will be free to sign with whatever team he chooses. In April, the Colts will draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick.
Life will go on. There's a new day dawning in Indy.
Kravitz has said that in each conversation with Manning that the four-time MVP has sounded relaxed, upbeat and resigned to the reality.
The Manning era is done. It's all over but the soap opera.
We don't need Rob Lowe to tell us that.
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- Rob Lowe
- Jim Irsay