It is with great trepidation that I embark on this critique of Peyton Manning. He has been absolutely essential to the Indianapolis Colts since his debut in 1998. His role in resurrecting a once proud franchise is well-documented. He has turned the Colts into perennial Super Bowl contenders and is the most famous player in the league.
His influence in Indianapolis extends to the community- he has a Children's Hospital named after him and has been a great ambassador for the city.
It can't be doubted that Manning deserves a new contract from the Colts. With his consistent and sustained excellence, he has earned a salary commensurate to the Patriots Tom Brady. Owner Jim Irsay seems to determined that Manning will finish out his stellar career as a Colt. Despite the seeming love fest between the Colts and Manning, and with apologies to the Music Man, there is trouble...right here in Circle City.
Of all the roles that Manning has played over his career (savior to a franchise, MVP of the league, guest star on SNL) he now finds himself in the unenviable role of villain.
The new information coming out of the NFL Player's Association and NFL owner negotiations casts Manning as a selfish rich man. Manning appears to be grasping for special privileges not afforded to other players. The Boston Globe reported on July 19 that Manning made a request to the league to be exempted from the franchise tag for the rest of his career. http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/extra_points/2011/07/brees_manning_r.html
To the regular fan, this recent move smacks of the worst kind of self-important hubris. If Manning persists in his suit to be exempted from the franchise tag, his status as a good guy in Indianapolis will take an irreparable hit. He'll be a normal unrestricted agent. There is little chance that the Colts won't sign him to a big contract, despite his insistence on calling the shots in the negotiation.
The record-setting and sure-to-be highest in the NFL deal will make Manning even more wealthy than he already is and will position him well to ride into the twilight of his career as a Colt. But there will be a hidden cost for him. He will no longer be seen as an altruistic "team guy."
His extra demands, expressed through this special suit, show that he doesn't trust Irsay and the Colts brass to do the right thing by him. Instead of playing nice with an owner who has been extremely good to him, he chose to align himself with a long line of me-first athletes grubbing for more money to pile into their Scrooge McDuck vaults.
As a long-time Colts fan, I was able to keep the faith during the playoff struggles against the Patriots throughout the early 2000s. I was able to move on when I thought the Colts should have held on to Edgerrin James for a few more years after the 2005 season. I was even able to forgive Jim Caldwell for throwing away a chance at a perfect season in 2009.
This recent wound from Manning won't be as easy to recover from. When Manning takes the field with his pockets full later this fall, I'll expect nothing less than perfection and a Super Bowl run. Even if those lofty hopes are realized, I have a feeling that a bitter after-taste will linger. Selfishness always tastes bad.