|Peyton Manning at play with some Indy kids, who should be familiar with his recent childish behavior. (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, they did it. Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay. The greatest quarterback in Colts history, and the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. They did what everyone feared they would do -- they turned the week of Super Bowl XLVI into their own private pasture, veered toward the biggest pile of dung they could find, and stepped in it.
This Super Bowl should be the story, the only story, of the week. The Patriots and Giants? A rematch of that 2008 masterpiece? Brilliant. It's Tom and Eli and Belichick and Coughlin. Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Hall of Fame coaches. Wes Welker and Victor Cruz. Rob Gronkowski's ankle. Ahmad Bradshaw's foot. This game has all the elements, all the mystery, to consume a football-loving nation for a week of hype.
They did it. Peyton and Irsay. Jerk and Jerker. They hijacked this week as everyone hoped they wouldn't but feared they would, proving again the cynical but true notion that fear tends to be a more accurate premonition than hope. Or maybe it's Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, especially when the Mannings and Irsays are involved.
These are not selfless families, is my point.
The Irsays bolted Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984, moving the franchise to Indianapolis. That was Jim Irsay's father, but fathers and sons share the same genetic code. Look at Peyton and his old man, Archie. The last time -- the first time -- Eli Manning advanced to the Super Bowl, leading the Giants past Green Bay in the 2008 NFC title game to silence the New York City screaming that Eli hadn't been deserving of the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, Archie stole the show by barging into the postgame locker room and commandeering every available camera, notepad and microphone.
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Now this. Now Eli Manning is back in the Super Bowl, this one not about validation but coronation, this one the game that could clinch his spot some day in the Hall of Fame, alongside his more famous and more talented brother, but his more famous and more talented brother has chosen to make this week about himself. Thing is, I'm convinced Peyton loves Eli deeply, as I'm convinced Archie loves Eli deeply. They don't steal the attention out of cruelty. They do it because they simply cannot help themselves. Because selfish people do selfish things without even realizing it. That's why they're selfish -- because they literally have no idea they're stepping on other people.
This week didn't have to go this way, either. Indianapolis has been the best host city I've seen in my six years of Super Bowl coverage, getting an unexpected boost from a cooperative weather system that has kept temperatures in the 50s, but also being a tremendous host city for reasons that will be here whenever the Super Bowl comes back: a compact downtown with hotels and restaurants galore, all within walking distance of Lucas Oil Stadium ... and a gracious citizenry, a Midwest city with Midwest values. Indianapolis is the antithesis of the Peyton-and-Jim Show: Indianapolis is not selfish, not arrogant, not full of itself. Indianapolis is a humble place wanting to take care of its guests.
If only Peyton and Jim were natives of Indianapolis.
Then maybe we would be comparing Gronkowski's ankle in 2012 to Tom Brady's foot in 2008. Back then, Brady was "accidentally" spotted in New York City, with the world's most famous model, in a walking cast. It had everyone talking for a week about his status, wondering how well he would play in Super Bowl XLII. It was a distraction, and it almost worked. Had it not been for David Tyree's catch and Eli Manning's grit, the Patriots would have won in 2008.
Now we have Gronkowski, showing up at Media Day on Tuesday with a high-ankle sprain ... and yet no walking boot. In the days leading to the game, there have been more and more reports that he will play, and play well. It's enough to make you think it's a setup like Brady's foot was a setup in 2008, only of the opposite variety: There's no way Gronkowski will play, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick wants the Giants to waste valuable time preparing for the enormous tight end while not bothering to anticipate the changes the Patriots offense will make without him.
I'm not saying Gronkowski's healing is a hoax, and that he won't play. I'm just saying, that's a plot line we should've been discussing this week. Along with the health of Giants leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw, the rematch from Week 9 when the Giants beat the Patriots in New England without Bradshaw or Hakeem Nicks, the potential last-minute kicking battle between New York's Lawrence Tynes and New England's Stephen Gostkowski, and on and on.
Instead we have Peyton and Irsay, on and on. And in fairness to Irsay, Peyton started it. He started it early in the week when his people leaked it that Manning had been cleared to play after the neck surgery that sidelined him this season. That was a shocking revelation, truly newsworthy had it not been so criminally misleading. "Cleared" to play is not the same thing as "able" to play, and Manning's camp knows it, but they wanted to put pressure on Irsay as the team's decision nears on what to do with Peyton and his $28 million roster bonus due next month.
The leak from Peyton's people gave Irsay the choice of taking the high road and ignoring it -- or reacting. Well, that was no choice. Irsay did what he does: He lurched forward clumsily, knocking over tables and drawing more attention to himself by sending out a tweet heard 'round the word that said Peyton wasn't ready to play, that the situation essentially hasn't changed in months. That started a flurry of back-and-forth between the two sides through the media, and it reached a crescendo Friday when Manning's agent, Tom Condon, magically appeared at the media center to assure newspapers and TV cameras from every time zone that, "Peyton wants to play and he's safe to play."
So here we are, approaching the biggest day of the football season. The hype is almost over. Time to see what happens.
Oh, and also, Super Bowl XLVI is Sunday.