ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay backed down a bit after Broncos coach John Fox and former Colts general manager Bill Polian chided him for comments critical of Peyton Manning.
Fox used his weekly SiriusXM NFL Radio appearance Tuesday to criticize the Colts’ owner for sounding ungrateful for all Manning did for his team and city, including winning a Super Bowl in 2007, and Polian used the same platform to say Irsay was wrong in both his facts and opinions.
After a series of tweets defending himself Tuesday night, Irsay took to Twitter on Wednesday to say he meant that if the Colts had given Manning better special teams and defense, they could have won more than one Super Bowl, instead of asking the quarterback to do too much.
He added that he found it hard to see how anyone could misinterpret his comments, but controversy sells, so he understands why people try to stir things up.
In a conference call with Denver media Wednesday, Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Irsay harbors no ill will toward Manning.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that Mr. Irsay respects and cares for more than Peyton,” Pagano said. “What can’t you say about Peyton? What he’s done for this organization, what he’s done for the city, our fans — what he’s done for football — it’s off the charts. And certainly all I know is that our owner has the utmost respect and love and passion for that guy and always will.”
Irsay told USA Today in an interview Tuesday that the Colts turned to Andrew Luck two years ago and released Manning rather than pay him a $28 million roster bonus because they were looking for more playoff success.
“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay said, showing 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,” Irsay added, showing his ring again, according to the newspaper.
Those comments were similar to the ones Irsay made in an interview with The Associated Press last summer, when the Colts owner said his only regrets about releasing Manning were that he wanted the star quarterback to throw his final pass as a Colt and he wished Manning had departed with more than one Super Bowl ring.
So, instead of relying on the high-charged offense Manning directed, Irsay said the team’s future February celebrations would come more frequently if the Colts ran a more balanced offense and divided the budget more evenly between the offensive and defensive players.
Irsay’s latest verbal barrage, coming as it did this week, created quite a buzz.
Fox normally isn’t one to criticize anyone in public, but Irsay’s comments clearly struck a nerve.
“I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot,” Fox said on SiriusXM. “In my opinion, they were disappointing and inappropriate. You know, Peyton would never say anything because he’s too classy to do that.
“They sounded a little ungrateful and unappreciative to me for a guy that’s set a standard, won a Super Bowl, won division titles, won four MVP awards, and I’d be thankful for that one Super Bowl ring because a lot of people don’t have one.”
Polian fired back at his old boss, saying Irsay had it wrong.
“For one thing, I don’t believe that Baltimore had two at the time that we were fired, all of us, Peyton, me and the rest of the staff, (coach) Jim Caldwell at the end of the ‘11 season,” Polian said.
He said Irsay was “very upset” after the Colts lost to New Orleans in the 2010 Super Bowl, “and I think it’s pretty telling that getting to the Super Bowl in his mind doesn’t count. And for anyone who is in the game and who has to make that journey from training camp to the Super Bowl, you know that it’s awfully difficult to get there.
“And as John Fox said … if you have one, you count yourself lucky. I’ve had teams that have been to six Super Bowls and won one. I’m not ashamed of that record by any means, and I’m certainly not ashamed of what we did in Indianapolis.”
Manning is 160-70 in the regular season — joining Brady as the only quarterbacks with 90 more wins than losses — but is just 9-11 in the playoffs with eight first-round exits.
The Broncos — who have won 19 of 23 games under Manning, but lost to Baltimore in the playoffs — visit the Colts on Sunday night in Manning’s first return to Indianapolis since his teary-eyed goodbye news conference alongside Irsay in March 2012.
Manning’s former coach, Tony Dungy, said on a conference call this week that he thinks Irsay wouldn’t have let Manning go had he known Manning would bounce back as he has.
“I can almost guarantee you that if he knew that he was going to be healthy like this and playing this kind of football, in hindsight I don’t think he would’ve done it,” said Dungy, who’s now an NBC football analyst. “But with everything the way it was at that time, with Andrew being there and being available, knowing the scouting report on Andrew and the percentages of Peyton coming back and playing well at that point, it was the right thing to do.”
Irsay defended himself in a string of responses on Twitter on Tuesday night, when he quoted Manning as saying that both he and the owner wanted him to stay in Indianapolis but “circumstances forced our hand.”
He finished with a joke, saying he hopes for old time’s sake that Manning completes some passes to his old teammates such as safety Antoine Bethea.
Fox and Manning meet with the media following Wednesday afternoon’s practice.