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Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay: NFL's Second-Generation Goliaths Slug It Out

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"Big business can't have big heart."

Jim Irsay shared his revision of Claudia McDonnell's well-known ethics question with Hannah Storm in a recent ESPN interview.

Peyton Manning's 2012 media utterances include: "I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we've done great things together. It's hard to watch an old friend clean out his office."

Doesn't sound much like a shot across the bow, does it? But this interview with Indianapolis Star writer Bob Kravitz only fanned the embers of a relationship already in ashes.

It's almost certainly the end of the liaison between a man whose father turned an air-conditioning empire into a NFL franchise and a man whose father turned a pitiful New Orleans Saints team into something almost respectable.

None of us likely know what it's like to grow up as the son of an alcoholic businessman struggling to run a very public business. Irsay was named Colts' general manager at the age of 24 and became the youngest owner in the NFL at 37. Sounds lonely.

Peyton Manning grew up the son of the local hero and one of an athletic trio of boys applauded from elementary school onward. Then his older brother lost football due to spinal stenosis and Peyton took up No. 18 and a competitive intensity rivaled by few.

These two created a football dynasty that owned the midwest for 13 years. But alpha males co-exist uneasily.

This isn't really my area of expertise, so I did some research. Apparently, being an alpha male consists almost solely of doing whatever you want to do when you want to do it and not letting anybody stop you. You see how this might make respectful friendship challenging.

Irsay is solidly sober, but he clearly retains a desire to be wild, unpredictable and the center of attention. He obviously believes that Twitter was invented just for him. The man redefines enigmatic with every 140 characters.

Irsay owns Jack Kerouac's original On the Road manuscript. Evidently, he views social media as his personal expression of Kerouac's famous "spontaneous prose." Do you think anyone has dared to tell him he is not one of America's most seminal literary figures? Me neither.

Conversely, what do we really know about Peyton Manning? Or Eli? Archie and mom Olivia taught their sons how to live in the media fishbowl. We'll probably never see their inner lives. Good for them.

Nonetheless, I am sure that Jim Irsay is completely accurate in his assessment of Manning as an "eggshell smasher." That kind of intensity is wonderful for production, but it's a bit hard to take on a daily basis.

Reports suggest that Peyton Manning is willing to restructure his contract around incentives. I'd give this a strong "maybe," followed by a rock-solid "it depends."

The NFL Players Association is in an awkward position. I'm sure they don't want Manning to look like a greedy superstar by being intractable after his boss paid him $26 million for standing on the sidelines. But if Manning restructures his deal, every owner will force restructuring on every injured player -- even those working for the league minimum -- because big business doesn't have a big heart. Anyone living in America today knows this with a depressing certainty.

But "heart" wasn't a Colts mainstay even in pre-bust years. After all, Irsay senior rolled out of Baltimore in the middle of the night -- without any notice to hundreds of suddenly jobless employees.

I hope that Peyton isn't surprised. I hope that he was paying attention when Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison were handed their hats and was watching as Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis were pushed halfway out the door by the end of the 2011 season.

In this alpha male power struggle has Irsay lost sight of Manning's gridiron contributions? Beginning in his fourth season, the future Hall of Famer completed over 66 percent of passes, scored an average of 38 TDs each year and generally threw half that number of interceptions. He put up over 4,000 aerial yards every single season -- except the season that Indy fielded the closest thing to a rushing attack in the Colts' modern era. That year they won the Super Bowl.

In 2010, with absolutely no running game and ever-widening defensive cracks, Manning passed Indy to the postseason. Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison told the NFL Network that he watched Peyton Manning single-handedly "will" the Colts to the playoffs.

More importantly, especially from a bottom-line point of view, Peyton Manning is by far the most entertaining quarterback of his generation. A few years ago Mike Tirico quipped, "There is no better pre-snap theatre in the NFL than Peyton Manning."

Let's be honest: Unless you live in Indianapolis, you are not a Colts fan -- you are a Manning fan. The second that Manning picks a new city, most of us will become fans of that team.

It is even remotely possible that I would cheer for the Dallas Cowboys if Peyton were to embrace "The Star." My Virginia family would immediately disown me, but... it's Peyton Manning!

It's unlikely that No. 18 will come to save my Redskins. But I can at least fantasize about watching Peyton breathe fire on second-generation weenie Kyle Shanahan, right?

Business can't have a heart? Let's run that one by Ralph Wilson. The Buffalo Bills owner kept tight end Kevin Everett on the active roster for three years after his famous injury. Everett thankfully recovered from paralysis and was able to walk into the stadium only a few months later. Mr. Wilson's decision to sacrifice a roster spot for that long in order to insure Everett's access to lifetime medical care and a full pension was without doubt an idiotic choice when viewed from a winning or bottom-line perspective.

Ms. McDonnell's article was entitled "Does Big Business Have a Big Heart?" I guess it depends upon whose business it is.

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