This Sunday, perhaps the most anticipated game of the NFL season will be played in Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium: Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck. Except this time, Manning will not be playing for the home team. Sunday's match-up will mark the first time Manning will face his former team, and the event has not been without controversy.
In an interview with USA Today, Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts who made the mind-blowing decision to release Peyton Manning at the beginning of the 2012 season, voiced no regrets about his decision to rebuild the Indianapolis Colts: "Circumstances created this decision. You have to understand there's no way this occurs if he's in Indy. It's just impossible, where our salary cap was. Having him stay at the type of number that he expected and deserved to earn and all those things."
However, money was not Irsay's sole concern with retaining Manning: "We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these," stated Irsay, referencing his Super Bowl ring.
"(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these. Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.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 this."
These incendiary comments sparked reactions from both Jon Fox, the head coach of Manning's Broncos, and Tony Dungy, Manning's former coach at Indianapolis.
John Fox, who coached for 9 years for the Carolina Panthers before taking the same position at Denver, is typically known for his reserve when talking to the media. Irsay's comments, however, incited Fox enough to force him to speak on the situation:
“I saw the comments [from Irsay] and to be honest with you I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot. To me, in my opinion, they were disappointing and inappropriate. I mean, Peyton would never say anything. He’s too classy to do that. But they sounded a little ungrateful and unappreciative to me for a guy that has set a standard, won a Super Bowl, won division titles, won four MVP awards. I’d be thankful with that one Super Bowl ring because there’s a lot of people that don’t have one.”
Tony Dungy also called Irsay's comments into question, stating, "Jim is making this personal. I'm surprised." When asked why he believed Irsay had made the comments, Dungy suggested it was part of mental-game against Manning due to their upcoming contest: "I think that's what he's trying to do. Have him make it such a big game he doesn't perform well. I can't figure any other reason to go this way."
Why Irsay would want to provoke the NFL's best quarterback to become even more competitive is beyond understanding. Perhaps Irsay realized the error of his ways late last night when he took to Twitter to respond to his critics:
Twitter-grammar may have had an effect on Irsay's communicative abilities if he believes the only way to interpret his comments was that Peyton would have won more Super Bowl rings with a better Special Teams and Defense. His comments in the USA Today interview stemmed directly from the decision to choose Luck over Manning, and he specifically calls Manning out in his diatribe against not winning more Super Bowl rings.
It seems as if Irsay is best defined by his line, "CONTRO sells." If controversy is what Irsay wanted, controversy is what he has gotten. He just shouldn't be surprised when Manning strolls into Lucas Oil Stadium and puts a Denver-sized wallop on his Colts.
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