Peyton Manning is in unfamiliar territory.
For the first time in his long, accomplished career, the NFL's version of John Wayne is unsure what his future holds. If there's any truth to recent media reports Peyton's employers are seriously considering handing him his hat anytime soon.
It makes me think a little of Jodie Foster. That's right, Ms. Foster, the Academy Award winning actress and star of such movies as "Taxi Driver" and "The Silence of the Lambs."
Why Jodie? In the Carl Sagan-based, sci-fi drama "Contact" ('98), Jodie, like the Colts' main-man is a top-performer who unexpectedly finds herself persona non grata.
Jodie's character (Dr. Ellie Arroway) becomes an overnight sensation, having made the first government-sanctioned contact with an alien race (Vegans). She's invited to a sit-down with billionaire extraordinaire John Hurt (SR Hadden). He schools the brave but naive Ellie on the cut-throat nature of politics, informing her "the powers that be" are "position(ing) themselves for the game of the millennium" and are dealing her out. SR knows a good thing when he sees it and wisely deals the feisty femme back into the mix. Good man.
One day you're a star, the next, you're excess baggage (and so much salary-cap space).
"That's life in the big city," as an old friend of mine use to quip (Teresa of Cedarburg).
While the team has indirectly denied reports of plans to cut Manning loose and lasso Stanford QB Andrew Luck in April's draft (Indystar.com / 1-8 / "Colts" / PR), it's not hard to see how Colts' owner Jim Irsay might be getting a bit uneasy about the status quo and develop a wondering-eye (ESPN.go.com / 1-8 / "Indianapolis" / CM).
Peyton Manning was MIA for all of 2011 because of a serious physical malady. And like they say in the big city, "You're only as good as your last envelope" (Silvio Dante to Paulie in HBO's The Sopranos).
Peyton's been missing his drop and the Boss is rightly concerned.
Reports of the exact nature of the former MVP's malady have been somewhat cryptic and range from a "bulging disk" in his neck with adult "stem cell" treatments (Huffingtonpost / 9-19-11 / "Peyton") to "spinal fusion" surgery to correct "a damaged nerve" (AP / ESPN.go.com / 12-2 / "Peyton").
Suffice to say, the latest news is that the multi-staged surgical procedure was a success.
Some of the recent comments by friends & family on the Indy QB's progress have been encouraging. Colts' kicker Adam Vinatieri: "He's been progressing nicely and looks good" (ESPN / 1-12); Dad Archie Manning: "He's got a great attitude, he's just trying to get healthy" (FOX-NY Post / 1-16).
Every team has a face-player (or two), a guy who defines the franchise. In Steel City it's Big Ben & Troy, in Minnesota it's Adrian & Jerod, the Big Easy it's Drew and for Chicago (Urlacher) and Baltimore (Lewis), legendary linebackers are the cover men.
But Peyton's been more than a face of the Colts' club. A standard-bearer of the NFL, he, like Brett Favre, resurrected a dormant franchise and gave its controversial relocation ('83) legitimacy by helping lay a winning-foundation in their newish Indiana home.
By March the Colts must either pick-up Manning's $28 million option or cut him loose. Because Irsay knows better than anyone how much PM has meant to his organization I have no doubt that whatever his decision it'll come after much thought and debate.
Their first line inquiry: Is Manning's ailment repaired and likely to withstand the rigors of an NFL quarterback? Anytime the injury-focus is above-the-neck you proceed with great caution (Crosby) and leave no stone (question) un-turned.
If the forecast is cloudy, the prognosis poor, finding a new field general becomes a necessity.
Owner Irsay could have his cake and eat it too: draft Luck AND keep a medically-cleared Manning on board. Not only fiscally phantasmagorical, the patience that such a segue requires (Montana / Young) is today a very rare commodity indeed.
QB competition can be good medicine. Atlanta and Dallas both can use a dose of the elixir but likely won't partake. In Denver, Tebow's gonna' get the #1 nod come OTAs (Elway: "He's earned the right" / ESPN / 1-16) but that's not the big story. Don't think for a second John won't have an Elway-esque, pocket-passer in camp to keep things honest. He will. He better.
While Peyton's always appeared emotionally-centered, even a stalwart as he can't like a top-draftee waiting in the wings, especially when just coming-off a major medical. Everyone wants to go out on their own terms.
Some think Luck is too good a prospect to pass up. But if Peyton's healthy, he's got 4-6 good years left while the cycle of top, but unproven, college prospects always comes around again.
Peyton Manning isn't the only bright star in the NFL's galaxy of lights. No team's future can be tied to one man (See; Green Bay Packers). Since the days of Jim Thorpe GMs and fans alike have learned that any & every gridiron great is eventually expendable.
But if the Duke of NFL Dukes is physically ready to rock & roll, Colts would be wise to thank their lucky stars for having such a man and leave the unchartered waters that is Andrew Luck to some other team to navigate.
Advice to Mr. Irsay: "Think on multi-levels...think like a Vegan" (SR Hadden).