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Pro Bowlers feel for Peyton but say it's the nature of business

  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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OAHU, Hawaii -- Standing on a makeshift football field in Hawaii having just spent a few hours preparing for what will be his 12th Pro Bowl, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez's voice sounded as relaxed as the island vibe around him.

So maybe we should blame the location for his laid-back outlook on the Peyton Manning drama unfolding thousands of miles away on the other side of the nearby ocean. Better yet, we should probably credit his historical perspective instead.

"It's tough, and it's somewhat sad," Gonzalez said. "But it happens to everybody. If you play long enough, something is going to happen. It's unfortunate that it happened this way for Peyton with the injury. But it's all been done before.

"Look at Joe Montana."

In other words, everyone take a deep breath. Remove your fingers from your keyboard. Sign out of Twitter for just a moment. And realize this: Whatever happens with Manning in the next four months, it's going to be just fine. His legacy in Indianapolis will outlast any of the overstated drama of this situation.

You know who it's toughest for? Manning. No one else. Not Colts owner Jim Irsay. Not the Colts' fan base. Not anyone. And by this point in his Hall of Fame career, if Manning hadn't prepared himself for this possibility, then we've all been hoaxed into thinking one of the game's smartest players wasn't as calculating as we thought.

As was the case with Brett Favre and Montana, two players who were replaced by younger quarterbacks before they deemed their careers dead, the dramatics of their final years in Green Bay and San Francisco were necessary in the moment of negotiations but irrelevant in the overall determination of their legacies.

"It would seem a little weird, just like when Favre went to another team," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said Thursday when I asked him if it'd be strange to see Manning play for another team next season. "It just doesn't seem right in the beginning. But the weirdness fades."

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On Thursday, Irsay took to Twitter with yet another response to the newly fueled drama regarding Manning's future. Previously peeved that Manning went public with a few thoughts about the fragile state of the organization -- "He's a politician," Irsay said at the time -- the Colts boss wanted to make clear his biggest core belief regarding his place as owner.

"I humbly serve and protect the Horseshoe," Irsay wrote. "It is bigger than any individual, including me."

While I appreciate Irsay's final intended message -- and believe it's probably the only words he needed to express Thursday -- it also seems a little nonsensical for him to be bummed or surprised about Manning's comments. Manning, like the rest of us, sees the writing on the wall, and it has forced him into a mode of self-preservation. That should be no surprise. It's natural -- not political.

"It's tough to be told that they don't want you anymore," said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who was unceremoniously bounced from Oakland after eight seasons. "It is a business, and everybody always says that, and it's supposed to be understood. But that part still hurts."

Time will dictate the end game for Manning and the Colts. Time will also eventually heal the wound that's surely about to show up on the skin of the organization, allowing everyone involved to ultimately appreciate their past, present and future. That's as likely to ultimately be the case for Manning as it is for the Colts, even if Indianapolis might be in the more desirable spot than its quarterback. Nonetheless, if the team moves on, a healthy Manning would need to do the same.

"The bottom line is, you've got to play," said Gonzalez, whose Hall of Fame career in Kansas City is producing a new chapter in Atlanta. "That's what it's all about. You've got to put all of it aside. As sad as it was for me at the time, it was the best situation for both sides."

While it might not be the "best situation" for Manning, just as it probably wasn't the "best situation" for the Chiefs when Gonzalez worked his way out of Kansas City, it ultimately will prove to be the only situation. As the Colts prepare to use their No. 1 overall pick, it'd be difficult for anyone to make a solid case against the prospect of moving on to a new chapter in Indianapolis.

Whether Manning's career continues with the Colts for another season or two, whether he winds up elsewhere or whether he never plays the game again, he'll go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Nothing is going to change that.

But nothing is going to change this, either: No matter how tough the decisions facing the Colts might seem, nobody else around the NFL should (or will) feel bad for them. Ultimately, let's remember what we're talking about here. The Colts are in a position to potentially replace Manning, perhaps a few years earlier than they might like, with a prospect (Andrew Luck) considered the most talented since Manning himself entered the league. Go try to convince Dolphins fans that the Colts deserve anyone's sympathy. This is an interesting situation. But it isn't a tough one for anybody but Manning. And it isn't an unprecedented one for anyone at all. We've been down this road before. And someday, we'll go down this road again.

"At the end of the day, it's a business," Tillman said. "The more you can understand and realize it, when that time does come, it won't be so bad."

Let's just hope such logic prevails.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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