By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Colts owner Jim Irsay said Wednesday his comments about frustration over the lack of Super Bowl championships during the Peyton Manning era have been misconstrued.
Speaking inside the team's practice facility while surrounded by local and national media, Irsay reiterated he has the highest respect for the Denver quarterback and is proud of the team's accomplisments during Manning's 14 seasons in Indianapolis.
"There was never a negative comment towards Peyton," Irsay said. "(Broncos) Coach (John) Fox, I have great respect for him. I think he's just a tremendous man of integrity and an outstanding coach. I don't think that the comments, however they came back to people, I know they were misperceived."
The quote drawing the most ire comes from Tuesday's edition of USA Today. Irsay first told reporter Jarrett Bell he was frustrated watching New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the New York Giants win multiple championships. Then he talked about the need for more balance on his own football team.
"You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times," he said. "You love to have the 'Star Wars' numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this."
At the end, Irsay flicked up his right hand to display his ring celebrating the Colts' Super Bowl XLI victory against Chicago.
During a Tuesday radio appearance, Fox called the comments a "cheap shot" directed toward Manning. He didn't back down during a conference call Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center but made it clear he was finished talking about the issue.
"I made those comments, they were yesterday's comments," Fox said. "I stand by them. Really, any commments moving forward will have to deal with the ballgame Sunday night there in Indianapolis."
Manning politely declined to adress the comments during his own conference call, but former Colts general manager Bill Polian had no problem firing back at Irsay. In his own conversation with USA Today, the architect of teams that had seven consecutive 12-win seasons defended his record in Indianapolis — including six division titles and two Super Bowl appearances — and challenged Irsay's new regime to match that success.
"It's up to them to meet or exceed that standard," Polian told reporter Jim Corbett. "I wish them well. But nobody can ever erase what we did."
Irsay also fell under fire on Twitter from outposts as varied as Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla, former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe and former Colorado Rockies slugger Todd Helton — a friend of Manning's dating back to their days together at the University of Tennessee.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, meanwhile, had his owner's back.
"I don't think there is anybody that Mr. Irsay respects and cares for more than Peyton," Pagano told Denver media during a conference call. "What can't you say about Peyton? What he's done for this organization, what he's done for this 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 spoke about retiring Manning's No. 18 jersey and even hinted at a possible statue being erected in his honor in the future. The Colts plan to honor their former quarterback prior to Sunday's game, and Irsay said that ceremony is "the tip of the iceberg."
But once it's over, Indianapolis will be challenged with stopping Manning. It's something nobody else has been able to do during the Broncos' 6-0 start.
And there's no misconstruing Irsay's respect for the Colts' next opponent.
"We're going to, obviously, have our hands full playing them," Irsay said. "I think 16-0 is certainly within their reach the way they're playing."