INDIANAPOLIS — The owner expressed frustration with winning a single Super Bowl between 1998 and 2011 while Manning was on the roster and the team made 11 playoff appearances. He later clarified his statements, saying they were not directed at the quarterback and simply reflected a change in the model of the organization.
But the damage already was done.
Manning stayed above the controversy, but his answer was telling when asked if he could discuss his current relationship with Irsay.
"No," he said. "I can't, and I won't."
The Colts plan a video tribute to Manning before the game, and there are sure to be split allegiances in the stands. Pagano said he's confident Indianapolis' 12th man ultimately will line up behind the horseshoe, and many players echoed that sentiment.
Once the clock starts, however, it will be up to the Colts' defense to keep Manning from adding another chapter to his Indianapolis lore. Safety LaRon Landry and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman will be healthy and in the lineup, giving the Colts their full complement of defensive starters for the first time this season.
They'll need every advantage they can get against the man Irsay called "the most loved Colt" of the 30-year Indianapolis era.
"There's nothing that we will do or anything that anybody else has done that he has not seen," Pagano said. "He's unbelievable at the line of scrimmage of previewing the defense, if you will, all those type of things. So it's going to be difficult, but it's exciting. It's going to be a great challenge for our team and our guys. He's a special player."