Peyton’s place: Leaving Indy, remaining in hearts.

I guess it means I’m a fan. There was a note about a televised press conference Wednesday morning. I got up off the couch for the remote and turned on the TV.

Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning were behind the podium, ending a 14-year partnership that included a Superbowl championship, the NFL’s top prize. According to Manning, there was no single event that was the turning point in the ending of their relationship and his employment with the only professional team he has ever suited up for.

A big bonus clause played a part – a 28-million dollar bonus that was due any day now – but there were other factors. Four neck surgeries, as an example. Age, as another. Peyton has his best years behind him, even if he has a few more good ones left in him.

But there is no guarantee of that.

There are several ironies: Before Peyton, the Indianapolis Colts were a small market team that some might have termed a laughing stock. Irsay took his draft and collected a 22-year old quarterback who paid off big-time. In fact, there likely would never have been a Superbowl game played in the state of Indiana if not for the legacy of that Tennessee graduate, the son of Saints quarterback Archie Manning. Brother of Eli, of NY Giants fame – also a Superbowl-winning MVP.

Peyton’s tenure and on-the-field success led to the paychecks and bonus clauses that now are keeping the Colts at the far-reaches of their salary cap.

If he really wanted to stay, though, couldn’t he just defer the bonus payment? As it turns out, he won’t collect it, anyway. Both men said money was not the primary issue.

The Colts are putting together the post-Peyton organization, and a big part of that is parting with Peyton. In another irony, without his play last season, Indy won only two games and assured themselves of the first draft pick, which will likely go to Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III – both topflight quarterbacks. They’ll command some money.

There isn’t room for a high-priced aging veteran with health problems – and an incoming stellar prospect who can sign a check as well as pass a football.

It’s too bad, really. Watching the press conference and its pent-up emotion, it was easy to see the two long-time associates were not comfortable with the divorce. Peyton apparently has it in his mind to play more years.

Even without the bonus, he likely doesn’t need more money.

He could live the rest of his life as a favorite son in Indianapolis and never have to write a check.

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