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Was Peyton Manning Being Political Calling Reporters Yesterday?

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I must admit, my sarcasm antennae jumped up when Indianapolis Star writer Phil Wilson tweeted yesterday that he'd just gotten a phone call from Peyton Manning. Initially, I thought Wilson was sending out another update on the Colts push to boost their season tickets. They had Dwight Freeney calling people last week, and my thought was now they actually managed to get former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to robo call people, telling them he had no hard feelings towards the Colts for cutting him last month due, in large part, to his cap-killing salary in 2012.

Turns out it wasn't a Manning robo call at all. It was Manning himself, and he was calling Wilson (and other Indy Star writers like Phil Richards, Bob Kravitz, and Mike Chappell) to essentially say "thank you" for their coverage of him in Indianapolis the last fourteen years. Again, all this is mostly coming from Wilson, who wrote a blog post about the ten minute conversation he had with Peyton.

Generally, I've avoided discussing No. 18 since he signed with the Denver Broncos because, well, he isn't a Colt anymore. I also have intentionally avoided him because we need to move on as a fanbase. The Colts are bigger than Peyton Manning, and anyone who thinks otherwise simply isn't a true Colts fan.

Sorry, but that's the truth. No player is above the franchise. No one.

That said, it is most certainly odd that Manning is randomly calling members of the Indianapolis media, in particular the Indy Star. This is a newspaper known for being "soft" when it comes to criticizing the Colts, especially the last ten years. For cynical jerks like me, Manning's random act of kindness towards a newspaper that no longer covers him suggests he's acting like a "politician," a role Colts owner Jim Irsay said recently that Peyton is very good at. I was not the only one who felt this way. Mike Florio stated in his blog post yesterday:

Peyton, in our view, wanted out. But he wanted to be sure that it didn’t appear that he wanted out. And now, with the Colts two weeks away from drafting his successor — and with more and more evidence coming to light that Peyton will be more than good enough to play in 2012 — Peyton wants to remind the fans, in not-so-subtle fashion, that Irsay ran Manning out of town, and that Manning would have preferred to stay.

I have to say, I agree with Florio here. I don't think Peyton's calls were just to say "thanks."

I know there is a general sense from people in Indiana (and Midwesterners in general) to take people at face value, especially if they have the "aw shucks" image that Peyton has so carefully and meticulously cultivated over the years.

For me, I don't buy it.

I'm not saying Peyton is some kind of evil person. He's generally known as a good guy, and I don't think it completely out of the realm of possibility that he would call certain members of the media to say "thank you." It's the timing that I find interesting, as well as the individuals that he called.

For starters, it seems he only called Indy Star people. Tom James, a veteran writer of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star who has covered the Colts and Manning for years, kind of got the cold shoulder from No. 18:

If Manning wanted to thank people in the local media who have covered him for fourteen years, why didn't Tom get a ring? Why didn't any of the local radio guys get a call? Local TV people?

I don't think it is a coincidence that Star writers were getting calls from Peyton. This is a newspaper many feel is "soft" on its coverage to him, and the Colts in general. The worst kept secret in local media there is columnist Bob Kravitz carries water for Jim Irsay. We've written about it many times. Everyone outside of the Star newsroom (and a few people within it) talks about this back-slapping type relationship between the two. I have no idea if others in media mention this in front of Kravitz, but he does seem to get annoyed when schmucks like me keep bringing it up.

Why would Peyton start buttering up the Indianapolis Star at this time? Why didn't he do it a month ago, when he signed with Denver? Or two weeks ago?

The answer might be in line with Florio's comment: "Peyton wants to remind the fans, in not-so-subtle fashion, that Irsay ran Manning out of town, and that Manning would have preferred to stay."

Florio also correctly called out the Manning comment (via Wilson) that he wanted to "pass along to the fans how much he appreciated them." If Peyton wanted to do that, he could have (as Florio suggested) taken out an ad in the Star saying "thank you" to the fans. Several athletes have done that when they depart cities they have a strong connection with.

The cynic in me says that this was yet another calculating move by Manning to get the Star all mushy for him as the Colts get ready to draft his replacement. Should Manning go out there in 2012 and play at an MVP level while Andrew Luck and the Colts struggle, that is going to make Peyton look good in the eyes of seemingly compliant media (a.k.a., the Indianapolis Star) and make Jim Irsay and the franchise look like boobs for cutting him.

I want to make it clear that I have no doubts about Phil Wilson's sincerity. I think he genuinely feels that Manning called him out of generosity, and that had to make someone like Wilson (who was pissed on for years by Bill Polian and his sons) feel good. There's a reason newspaper reporter is listed as one of the worst jobs in America. They are treated like sh*t by their editors, their readers, and the people they have to cover. Oh, and the pay is crap too.

Again, this is more about the state of the Indianapolis Star as a true journalistic entity than it is about Peyton Manning. To folks like me (and seemingly Mike Florio, though I don't know his full opinion on this), they've sacrificed objectivity and the truth for team access and "thank you" phone calls from athletes.

At the end of the day, folks will believe whatever they want. In general, my sense is most fans will view this as Peyton being "classy," and maybe they are right. I see a bigger picture. No one is more image conscious in the NFL than Peyton Manning, and he doesn't do anything unless it is for a very specific reason. His loss in Indianapolis is absolutely affecting the Colts bottom line, and he might be in the process of exploiting that to his advantage.

Look, I think this way because I'm a cynic and because, as Peyton told Wilson on the phone, this is a business. Cut throat as hell, at that.