Business vs. Loyalty - What Should the Colts Do?

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Now that the NFL season has officially come to an end and the Playoff Season has begun, the airwaves are blowing up over the Indianapolis Colts.  The team, which has suffered through the season without its stalwart, award-winning, MVP QB1, Peyton Manning, has been awarded the Number 1 draft pick in this upcoming spring’s NFL draft.  They earned this distinction by winning only two of their 16 games.  It’s true, the team has suffered through a lifetime of embarrassments in this one season and it looks like more will come.

Last week, team owner Jim Irsay fired the top echelon of his executive staff: the father-son team of Vice Chairman Bill Polian and General Manager Chris Polian.  This one act was an indication to many that Irsay plans to dump Peyton Manning and replace him immediately with Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the consensus Number 1 pick. 

This kind of makes me sick. 

Peyton Manning was drafted by Indianapolis in 1998.  He was the first pick of the NFL draft and has been with the Colts his entire career.  His dedication to his team has never strayed.  In fact, he is a model of team loyalty.  He is famous for his preparation techniques, watching endless hours of film during the season to ensure he is perfectly ready for his opponent -- armed with all the knowledge available – so he can be the best quarterback on the field.  By anyone’s standards, he has had an extraordinary career, filled with team and personal accolades and awards.  Besides leading the Colts to a Super Bowl win, he is the only NFL player to be awarded MVP four times.  He owns NFL passing records and Colts career records.  Sporting News has named him player of the year while Fox Sports has anointed him player of the decade.

Outside of football, Peyton has shown great acts of charity, helping underserved children in Indianapolis (as well as in his home state of Louisiana), pitching in to help during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and donating an undisclosed amount to the Indianapolis Childrens Hospital (it must’ve been a significant contribution because the hospital was rechristened the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent).  Along the way, Peyton has become one of football’s most marketable players and his self-effacing sense of humor holds him in good stead in advertisements and on programs such as “Saturday Night Live.”

Colts QB Peyton Manning © Doug Kapustin/Mct/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

In other words, Peyton Manning is not your average football player.  He is an extraordinary one.  How many players in this day and age can you name – in any sport – who have played their entire careers with one team?  I can think of four from the modern era: Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning.  (I don’t count Peyton’s younger brother Eli, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers but forced a trade because he blatantly refused to play for them.)  Peyton not only has helped his team win the Super Bowl but has been a fantastic representative of football.

And, now Irsay wants to dump him because it’s the smart business move?  Where is his sense of team loyalty?  Peyton stayed with the Colts through all these years, working hard to maintain his standards.  Clearly, he is the most valuable player on the team, otherwise they would’ve won more than two games without him at QB this year.  So, Peyton is hard-working, dedicated, skilled, extraordinary at his position.  What is his reward?  A possible trip to Nowhere.

Which leads me to this heartfelt question: Must decisions always be based on the bottom line?

I know my approach will strike some as naïve.  After all, Peyton spent this entire year on the injured list and has had three neck surgeries in the past two years.  It’s possible he will never be as effective as he once was.  His age (36 for the 2012 season) is also a major consideration.  How effective can a 36-year-old quarterback be?  And, what of the psychological ramifications of his recent surgeries, let alone the physical?  Complicating things is his contract.  If the Colts keep him, they owe him a $28 million bonus.  And then his contract nets him $90 million if he continues on past this year.  So, to be fair, the money involved is not exactly paltry.

Still, Peyton has been nothing but a loyal Colt for all the years of his professional career.  He has brought the Colts to national prominence, a Super Bowl championship and into the playoffs almost every year.  He’s a star Colt.  He’s a record holder.  He’s an NFL superstar.  He’s clean cut, has never been involved in any ugly off-field incidents and has represented the team and the league in the most upstanding, professional manner.  These should count for something. 

If I had enough money to own a professional football team, then I would also have the money to pay my team’s biggest star what he deserves to be paid so he may finish his career where he began it.  Does anyone in the Colts family really want to see their most enduring star play for someone else?  Didn’t it feel weird to see Joe Montana playing for Kansas City instead of San Francisco?  I know from experience that it was awful seeing Marcus Allen in anything but a Raiders uniform.  I wouldn’t be able to stand it if Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant were anything but a Laker.  Their reputations and the aura surrounding their careers were built on the fact that they were Lakers – no other team would possibly do.

Is professional athletics today too concerned with money?  Yes, I fear.  Gone are the days when players played for the love of the game.  (And, wasn’t the game – any of the games -- played better in those good ole days?) 

So, I say this: Jim Irsay, bite the bullet and keep Peyton as a Colt.  You signed him to the original contract; you should honor it, just as Peyton has honored his commitment to you.

Readers, what do you think?  Should business always trump loyalty?  Post your thoughts below.

 

 

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