Nate Dunlevy remembers the choice and consequences the Reds faced in 2000 with Barry Larkin and considers what the Colts can learn from it.
Parting with an iconic athlete can be painful. Not parting with him can be costly.
Nothing tests the boundaries of fandom like an aging super-star. The Colts are faced with a Gordian knot in the form of Peyton Manning. Perhaps the greatest player in NFL history, and certainly the most important player in the history of Indianapolis football, Manning's health and contract have put the Colts in an untenable position. Jim Irsay is left with the kind of choice that not even Sophie could make: cut Manning and preserve the future of his team or show loyalty to one of the all time greats.
This is not the first time that one of the key heroes from one of my teams was on the verge of leaving town. In 2000, Barry Larkin was in the final deal of a long below-market-value contract, with the Cincinnati Reds. Larkin, a Cincinnati native, was 36 years old, and in the middle of what would be his final .300 season. He was looking for a contract extension with the Reds, but unlike the hometown discount he gave before, he wanted a fair-market deal. The Reds were operating under the kind of payroll restrictions that functioned like a self-imposed salary cap. There was no way they had the money to pay Larkin.
They worked out a trade to the New York Mets late in the season. Larkin blocked the trade initially, but was said to be considering it over the weekend. Fan reaction to Larkin as he batted that Sunday afternoon was overwhelming. The fans enthusiastically cheered his every at bat. Owner Carl Linder, a notorious tight-wad, was touched. He relented on his oath not to resign the hometown shortstop. At age 37, Larkin was paid $9 million a year to return to the Reds for three more seasons. Sardonic announcer Marty Brennaman charged fans at the time to remember that when Cincinnati had no money to pay for pitching in the coming years that they themselves chose Larkin's extention over fielding a competitive team.
On the surface, the decision was catastrophic. Larkin was healthy for just one of his final three years under the deal, and the team sank in the standings, losing 87, 92, and 99 games. Larkin's deal crippled the Reds' ability to compete and the solid team that had been built crumbled under the weight of injuries to aging stars.
So was it a mistake to resign Larkin? The answer is not as obvious as it seems.
When Larkin made the Hall of Fame last week, it was an important and deeply meaningful moment for Reds fans. He played his entire career for just the Reds. Yes, he would have been defined as a Red either way, but because he never wore another jersey, there was something private and wonderful about the moment. Would I have traded a 2003 World Series title for it? Honestly I don't know. It was probably not a realistic option anyway. As bad as those three years were and as much as that contract hampered the Reds, did that one deal sink them?
Now, 12 years later, would I trade a winning season or two for the right to have rooted for Larkin every single year of his career? I'm not so sure. My guy is going to Cooperstown. My once-in-a-lifetime athlete never played in another jersey, and it does make it all feel more meaningful. It's not logical at all, I admit. That doesn't mean it isn't true.
If the Colts pay Peyton Manning $28 million to come back in 2012, it most likely will not end well on the field. Fans should accept that now. Manning isn't healthy now, and he may never be healthy again. Even if he is healthy, the Colts are also committed to drafting Andrew Luck #1 overall. If they pay Manning his bonus, they are committed to keeping him on the roster for three years. There is no exit plan if they keep both quarterbacks. The result will likely show up on the field in the form of losing seasons (plural).
The three most important athletes of my life have been Barry Larkin, Reggie Miller, and Peyton Manning. The first two played their entire careers in one uniform. If Peyton Manning does as well, I'll be be deeply happy and appreciative. Every game we get to watch him play in a Colts uniform is a gift. Asking me what I think the Colts should do and what will make me the happiest as a fan are two very different questions. Seeing Manning in another uniform would kill me. I think it would kill Jim Irsay too.
There may be wiser alternatives.
That doesn't make them better. Not everything is about winning.
Notes from the playoff weekend:
- The Super Bowl will be epic. Either the Giants or 49ers will be sentimental favorites in Indianapolis. Between Lil' Brother Manning and Captain Comeback Harbaugh, Hoosiers will heartily embrace the NFC over the unthinkable option of the Patriots and Ravens. Three annoying fanbases are gone from the playoffs (Saints, Packers, and Steelers), and another will be eliminated next weekend. I'm just grateful Indy fans will have a dog in the fight, even if it's not our own.
- Both the Steelers and Packers suffered losses that mirror the Colts losses in 2005 and 2008. The Packers suffered a tragedy this past week, and I think it's impossible to calculate how much that affected them. I've always considered James Dungy's tragic death the real reason Indy lost to Pittsburgh in 2005. I think we underestimate the humanity of players and coaches. They aren't robots.
- The four teams left in the playoffs are have the following Pass/Run DVOA splits: NE: 3/2 Baltimore: 14/9 NYG: 4/20 SF 12/24. We think of the NFC teams as being run offenses, but they aren't. The Giants are an elite passing team. They are at the top of the next tier down after the insane offenses of the Pats, Saints and Packers. Even the 49ers are a much much better pass team than run. The Pats have the only elite running game, and I think everyone would recognize that it's much more a function their passing attack.
- It remains to be seen how the 'Colts strategy' will fair in the playoffs. Three teams entered with Indy style offenses coupled with horrible pass defenses. The Saints lost a true heartbreaker. The Packers were demolished, and the Patriots played one of the worst playoff teams in history, hardly a test. Had the Saints won one more game in the regular season, they would likely be going to be the Super Bowl. I don't think the 49ers could have beaten them in the Super Dome.
- QB wins took another hit this weekend as Tebow was demolished proving that guys just win until they just lose. Eli and Brady are clearly elite quarterbacks, but no one should confuse Smith and Flacco with anything but middle of the pack guys. Still, three of the four QBs left in the playoffs were first round picks and two of them went #1 overall.
- If Schaub hadn't gotten hurt, I do believe the Texans would have gone to the Super Bowl.
I agree, you can't compared the most important postion in sports to a baseball player. I'm really happy for Larkin.
Oh, by the way DZ, with all my passion for Peyton... I forgot to give you kudos for the above paragraph on QB wins.
"Tebow was demolished proving that guys just win until they just lose". Classic.
So ... uh ... did anyone else notice that giant elephant run through the room on twitter earlier today? The one that said "PLACEHOLDERTITLETHINGHERELOL" and linked to an article about our new DC?
The article was pulled quickly for a reason I'm not privy to, so I won't mention the name for fear of putting CA in a bad spot. But Greg -- curious if you guys got a huge scoop that you're just awaiting confirmation on?
@pierrezombie Obviously I don't know Nate's inner thoughts, I was just kinda light heartedly saying what I hope he is really thinking.
And maybe what Peyton for President is saying makes so much sense to me... because I want it to be that way. (But boy does it make sense to me!)
And Peyton desperately wants to come back. And he wants to come back to the Colts! And I sure don't want to bet against him.
@DougEngland I hear you. I'm sure that if Nate could tell us more, he would. Until then, it's fun to speculate.
I completely agree about not betting against him. Even if the reports are gloomy. If anyone can do it, he can.
Peyton for President.... (The system apparently is trying to tell me something, as the reply function is not working for me.)
You sure do sound like you know what you are talking about. and I SO hope you are right.
I have found whenever I even have the inclingling to challenge Nate, I hesitate because I always think he has a source at the Colts so he knows something I don't.
But in this matter I think Nate is getting some inside info, but like everything else, it is sketchy at best and defiantely not conclusive one way or the other.
And here is what I'm hoping... Nate wants Peyton to be healthy as much as any of us. So much so that he doesn't want to risk being monumentally disappointed, so he is intentionally not getting his hopes up.
Nate's statements in the comments below suggest that he either has an unnamed source in the know or is getting information from someone who does:
"People in the organization have been privately using the phrase career threatening for a long time."
"You don't have have to believe what I'm saying, but he is much, much further away than you have been lead to believe."
So DougE, while I'm totally with you on hoping Nate is just being preemptively pessimistic about Manning, I'm afraid he's actually just reporting it straight up as well as he can and that -- like the original reports of the third surgery -- he'll end up being right.
@pierrezombie@DougEngland Until I know nate's source or until something more clear comes out on Manning's status, I'll consider it just as likely that Nate has been lead to believe that Mannning is further away than he is.
All we talked about in the last week of the season was that it was a given that manning would fail a physical since that would allow him to keep working in the Colts facility. Him failing a physical is therefore no kind of evidence against the reports.
Personally, I put a lot of faith in Lovin Blue's analysis and the most recent one says ready by OTAs.
@pierrezombie I'm not saying Manning will get ready BTW. I'm saying I don't if he will.
@gizzardfanny GF, I think that's as reasonable a stance as any. And damn, I hope you're right.
One possible counter to what Nate's hearing is that there are 'sources close to the Colts' (or whatever) who *think* they know, but don't. With the FO and coaching staff in the biggest transition in a decade, it's easy to imagine things being confused or unclear right now. Opinions and reports about Manning probably vary inside, too.
@pierrezombie@DougEngland IF this is the case, I believe we need to make Peyton the first Colt to be enshrined in the ring of honor the day he departs us. We need to rally around him, give him a parade, rename a street after him, and sell commemorative gold lettered Manning Jersey's. Retire #18 right away, do anything and everything we can to let him know that, though we must move forward, we will never move on.
He deserves it...
@Nate Dunlevy If you'de like to substantiate any of your claims with actual evidence, I'm all ears. But when you make claims like " I once thought he'd walk away rather than play at a diminished capacity. I no longer believe that. I think he's going to try to keep playing, and the result could be very ugly" it tells me that you may be making assumptions on a matter that is outside your area of expertise. That is pure speculation based on nothing more than your opinion. I haven't been lead to believe anything. I'm basing my statements on facts. Medical reports from doctors that perform the surgery. Other players careers that have had the surgery. And the timeline of events that have taken place. I wouldn't be optimistic if there wasn't evidence leading me in that direction. You can insult my intellegence, and assume I'm just a hardcore homer all you want, but you've yet to support your any of your claims with any actual facts.
@Nate Dunlevy Ya know, I was just reading our earlier posts and realized when I said you insulted my intelligence, I spelled intelligence wrong. It's rare that one gets set up so beautifully to burn another. Thanks for taking the high road on that. You had to have noticed. I'm going to go read a book now.
@Peyton for President At no point have I insulted your intelligence. Not one place. Why would you accuse me of that? I don't think you are unintelligent and certainly never implied. I do believe I know way more about this situation than you do, however.
Every single thing I wrote has been reported other places. Let's go over the real facts. Manning hasn't been cleared to practice. He failed his last physical. No one has set any date at which he's expected to be ready to go. The earliest date I've heard is possibly July.
I've seen all the same 'medical reports' and heard all the same anecdotes about other players with the surgery. What you are ignoring is Manning's actual condition right now. He's not healing on the same timeline other people have in the past. That's fact. No one in the entire world disputes this. What you are calling 'evidence' is not evidence. It's opinion based on past medical cases. It can be illuminating, but ultimately has very little relationship to Manning's particular case.
The issue was never the neck surgery. It's a big red herring. The issue is nerve regeneration. They don't know why his nerves didn't bounce back last summer. They did the neck surgery to allow for the nerves to come back. To date that hasn't happened. He's not close. It's not just a question of rebuilding strength. The only person to suggest it was was Will Carrol in one cryptic tweet that was unclear. Carrol is a good reporter, but I'm not sure that one tweet meant what people think it meant. I heard it disputed in several quarters immediately, so I tend to think it was something out of context. You can certainly choose to believe that one tweet if you want. I do not, and I have good reason not to.
I know why you are choosing to be optimistic and I think that if I were in your shoes, I'd probably believe the rosier reports as well. You should be aware, however, that there is way more basis for pessimism than optimism. In this case, the gloomier voices are closer to reality than the happy ones. There are plenty of reports out there saying the same things I'm saying. It's just a question of which ones to believe. There's far more actual evidence he's not ok than there is that he will be. In fact, you cannot find one expert willing to stand up and say, "Peyton Manning will be 100% fine come training camp. I guarantee he'll be ready for 2012". No one, and I mean NO ONE is willing to say that. Archie Manning won't even say that. That's evidence. If the rosiest predictions were accurate, Manning would be much further along than he is.
As far as who's right who's wrong. I honestly don't know. Both of us, neither of us? Who knows? In many cases perception is reality. We obviously have different perspectives. I'm not willing to put any 100% guarantees on this situation. You're right. No one can. Just to clear this up. I don't care what most of the blowhards in the media have to say. Based on comments I've heard from some of the "distinguished" members of the media i've realized 90% of them haven't a clue about this situation. I'm not waiting for breaking news on Sportcenter, and I don't do the twitter. I'm using my knowledge of the surgery performed, the timeline of events taken place, and thing that I've seen with my own eyes. As far as Manning progressing slower than expected, I disagree. When he announced that the spine was fused, that was a huge milestone. His neck is fine. I fully understand this is a nerve issue, and once again you're right, no one can predict when it will fully heal. If the nerve wasn't healing at all, he wouldn't be throwing yet. He would only be doing weightroom activities. And as a side note, if his nerve wasn't healing he wouldn't be able to lift enough weight to build the type of muscle he has. Big muscle=Big weights. He isn't pussyfooting around in the gym. I can see that with my own eyes.
@Nate Dunlevy " I appreciate where you are coming from and why,but you are basing your opinions on a lot of things that are simply not true and inaccurate understanding of where Manning is right now and how far he has to go. He's not anywhere near ready." "You can believe whatever you want." "I do believe I know more about the situation than you do however." "I know why you are choosing to be optimistic and I think that if I were in you shoes, I'de probably believe the rosier reports as well." Now Nate. If comments like that didnt insult my intelligence, I'de have to wear a helmet to keep from hurting myself. I probably could've been a little less dikkish in my first post, so if roles were reversed, I'de do the same thing. I'm sorry, but when I read above phrases they did seem a bit condescending. I don't think any less of you because of this argument. You have every right to defend your position, and I actually really appreciate you taking the time to do so. I love this sight and have enjoyed many of the things you've written. To me, this debate changes none of that.
@Peyton for President You don't have to believe me. I certainly hope I'm wrong. My job is to take what I know and make educated claims about it. You should realize that I don't do it lightly. I wish I could stand behind my claims with more conviction. I really do. I don't have enough evidence to report them as fact. I can't say definitively that you are wrong. I hope you are not. I can say that your view of Manning's condition is not in sync with known facts of his present health and there are many people close to the situation that are more pessimistic than optimistic.
I would think so and here's why. The nerve affected is the nerve that controls the tricep on his throwing arm. If this nerve wasn't healing, he wouldn't be throwing at all. The loss of strength in the tricep would cause him to overcompensate for that loss of strength with other muscles such as his deltoid, pectoral, and bicep. This would change his mechanics and could potentially lead to issues in joints such as his rotator cuff and elbow. The doctors are well aware of this, as is Peyton. This is why ANY throwing is good news. As a weight lifter and someone who plays basketball daily I fully understand how muscles overcompensate for weaknesses in other areas. I do chest and arms Mon. and Thurs. Back n shoulders Tue. and Fri. Legs Wed. and Sat. I play basketball every day after weight training. I deal with a different set of muscles being weak every day, and it dramatically effects my shooting motion. Now in my case I can just keep on shooting, loosen up, and eventually I can bring my form to where it should be. I can compensate with legs and more arch on most days. If it was a nerve causing muscle weakness there would be nothing to rest or loosen up, just the resulting weakness, and I wouldn't be able to correct my shooting motion. Make sense? @fondue
@Nate Dunlevy@Peyton for President <http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7377266/joseph-addai-indianapolis-colts-says-peyton-manning-short-throws-were-game-ready> Unless I'm missing something, doesn't this indicate that even if progress is slower, there's still optimism? In December he was throwing short passes that were "good enough to play." Even if his nerves have been regenerating slowly, shouldn't the fact that his short stuff was back a month ago be promising? Or is there a chance that the nerves only regenerate to that point and no further?
So is any of this 100% proof that Manning will be ready. No. But it is reason to be hopefull. As I previously stated, this surgery was nowhere near as serious as SOME had stated. Playing the odds from day one, there was always a reason to be hopefull. An athlete of Manning's caliber had an excellent chance to fully recover from day one. The fact his voice box wasn't damaged, his spine fusing, his ability to gain muscle and start throwing again are all signs that the surgery went well, and he is getting better. There is nothing about this surgery that would keep him from playing at a high level at this point, unless the nerve was so severely damaged that it will never heal. I would have to say that based on his progression, the odds of that being the case are very low. Again, no guarantees just optimism. I think we may have to just agree to disagree at this point.
@18to88 Is "Invincible, Indiana" in bookstores around Indy? Subject takes me back to my days covering hoops for a small Indiana daily!
@dleehoss It's on sale in a few places. If you don't find it, ask for it. They'll order one . Also on Amazon and InvincibleIndiana.com
Just bought @18to88's "Invincible, Indiana" on Kindle. Terrific concept for a book. Indiana's sports culture changed forever in 1997.
@Nate Dunlevy You're basing your opinion on a belief that Peyton won't be able to return, not facts. How do you know he isn't anywhere near playing condition? Because he failed his physical? Which was nothing more than a loophole in order to contnue rehabing with Colts staff. The possibility that this injury was career threatning was low in the first place, and extremely low once the neck was fused. I'm basing my opinions on several medical reports I've read and things I've seen over the course of the year, and previous cases of this injury. Peyton lost muscle mass after the surgery, and then put muscle mass back on, very quickly I might add, once his rehab ramped up. The fact that he was able to gain muscle mass back as quickly as he did is a very possitive sign, or dare I call it evidence. I lift weights 6 days a week, and his physical change over the course of about 8 weeks was impressive by anyone standards. His neck is fused= His neck is fine. Archie just said his neck is fine. I'm thinking he might have some insight on the situation. He's throwing again. That's evidence that he has gained enough strenth to do so, which means his nerve is healing. these are facts, not opinions. I respect your work as a writer, but you are the one is basing belief on opinion.
@Peyton for President You can believe whatever you want.
"The possibility that this injury was career threatning was low in the first place"
Not true. People in the organization have been privately using the phrase career threatening for a long time.
As for the rest, you have to understand that Manning very much wants to play and very much wants to be perceived as being close. The reality of the situation is not nearly so rosey.
You don't have have to believe what I'm saying, but he is much, much further away than you have been lead to believe.
I have always really like Phil B.
But this year, I think he has really been off his game. His unveiled hatred for BP, clouded everything he wrote.
And then his post after BP was finally fired, and I seemed to get the feeling that Phil B. had some personal history of abuse... I felt a little bad for my thoughts concerning his work.
So now his post today... and I'm right back to thinking he is completely off his game. First of all, I get it that most Colts fans want Jim Caldwell fired. But that is not even close to the biggest thing Colts fans should be concerned about.
The ONLY thing that any responable Colts fan should be concerned about are these reports that even if Peyton is healthy... the Colts are keeping the #1 pick. As this site has done a good job of the last few days (unlike the frigging Star) for so many reasons this just won't work. (The most obvious being that paying Peyton makes since only if you expect to get at least 4 years out of him... and under no scenario is Luck sitting for four years.)
THIS is the story fans should be protesting about.
@DougEngland In fairness to the Star, Kravitz has been saying it won't work for months now.
@DougEngland Caldwell staying isn't as bad of a thing as most people will make it out to be. I dislike Caldwell, because his game management is awful, and he hasn't shown any ability to adapt. However, all signs point towards him being a great locker room guy and somebody that players will play hard for. He's held the team together without any dissension through the injury filled 10-6 season and now through a disastrous 2-14 season. There are far worse things than Caldwell staying.
@DougEngland But Luck Luck Luck! And big names and once-in-a-lifetime sure things and rainbows! I´m really curious about this as well. Let´s say the Colts cut Peyton after 3 years since it´s the earliest possible date from a financial standpoint. Do people really believe Luck will sit 3 years? Do they want to cut Peyton? The only way this makes sense to me, leaving aside the (huge) issue of cap space, is that people imagine Peyton will decline in the next 2 years, which would make him amenable to having Luck progressively take control of the offense, and would make Luck´s transition smooth. Still, this doesn´t make any sense, for several reasons. Luck won´t want to sit two years. The team would be crippled because it wouldn´t be trying to win now with as much talent as possible. And we´d be in cap hell if we pick up Manning´s option and don´t play him for 3 years at least. So, once again, how come few people are being realistic about this matter? Scrounging up the numbers shouldn´t be rocket science for professionals.
As an aside, I can´t fathom how any Colts fan could want Peyton to decline.
@Goeland @DougEngland And... on the topic of the imaginary smooth transition -- are people really expecting that Luck is so great he can just step in and pilot the genetically engineered starship the minute Manning gets out of it? Sure, he'd give it a better go than Curtis F. Painter, but if we're committed to him as our long term QB, do we really want him starting in Manning's offense, rather than one that's actually tailored to him? I don't know how that's a good thing for the team.
Unfortunately, us Colts fans going back to 2005, apparently understand more about what caused the Packers performance yesterday than ANYBODY in the national media. Not to pat myself too much on the back (oh, O.K. I am) but I even posted earlier in the week how I felt bad for the Packers.
Nate as you correctly pointed out, these guys are not robots. I can not imagine anything worse than a parent having to bury a child. But apparently the members of the media are the unfeeling louts I take most of them to be, because I haven't seen a single person even mention this.
@DougEngland That's bizarre that they're not putting that off-field event together with a bunch of super productive receivers suddenly forgetting how to catch and Rodgers missing wide open targets. It was literally the first explanation I thought of, even before the "too much rest" argument.
@pierrezombie@DougEngland The too much rest argument is baloney, anyway. One week does not equal two months and a half, the way we´re seeing right now with the NBA, or one month the way we saw with the BCS championship. Sports pundits will cling to any absurd explanation instead of delving into nuanced details.
As a Reds and Colts fan, this post was wonderful. However, after pausing to think this through, I have a very troubling problem with this post. You are comparing baseball and football. You, Nate, once told me never to compare football situations with basketball or football. I see the point you are wanting to make, but...
Peyton Manning (if healthy) is valuable enough to account for at least 8 wins every year going forward. We have agreed that he is that good. Larkin was never worth wins for his team alone, because baseball is so crucially a sport that requires an ensemble. Manning has the ability to improve those he plays with (the Blair White project!).
I fully expect that even with 5-10 million in dead money (the Luck contract), the Colts can not only field a decent team, but a 12+ win team. I mean, we won massive games with dead money locked into contracts for Sanders and Harrison. We are all treating this as if it dooms our team, but with smart decisions and good late round draft picks/undrafted pickups we will be fine.
@mattshedd I'm comparing the emotional effect. The teams were crippled for very different reasons.
@Nate Dunlevy Yes, and the emotional effect is wonderfully similar. However, I am unconvinced that this team is crippled. Potentially? Yes. Would I feel better if Polian was building us with cap restrictions? Very much. However, we can field a good team.
@mattshedd We could (mayyyybe) be fine, but ... 1) Having Luck on the team at the same time as Peyton could potentially affect the locker room.
2) No Polian anymore. We don´t know how the draft will pan out. Maybe great, sure, but next year is anxiety-inducing for good reasons.
3) It´s not only about Luck dead money, but also about the many players we could lose in free agency. I´m pretty certain Wayne is gone, along with Clark and Brackett. As long as we don´t lose Mathis and Garçon, I´ll feel catastrophy was averted, but... The cap situation isn´t making things better.
Peyton Manning's last 4 drives for the Colts produced 16 points against the Jets. 1 TD and 3 field goals. That doesn't sound to me like a QB in decline.