By Bill Burt
INDIANAPOLIS — Where is Peyton Manning?
Where is the guy who is most responsible for getting the stunning $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium built and, thus, the first and probably only Super Bowl to be played in Indianapolis?
Where is one of the greatest ambassadors for the Colts and the NFL in what is maybe the most important week in the city's history?
Something isn't right in Indianapolis and something isn't right during Super Bowl week.
The way everything has played out is bizarre. His archrival, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and his kid brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, are playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
At the House that Peyton Built!
And he's nowhere to be seen.
His health, the $28 million bonus he would be due March 8 and his eventual replacement — expected No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of Stanford — have added gasoline to this raging inferno.
Few think he'll ever play for the Colts again. Having undergone three neck surgeries in 19 months, will Manning, who'll turn 36 next month, ever play again?
Peyton did a brief media obligation with ESPN on Tuesday, later meeting with a few local reporters. Other than that he's been AWOL.
He's nowhere to be seen but his jersey is!
There is a stampede of blue or white No. 18 Colts jerseys everywhere you go in downtown Indianapolis.
And everywhere you go, even people wearing Peyton's jerseys, are troubled by this perplexing dilemma. Pay him or let him go and let the Andrew Luck era begin.
"I want him back," said 64-year-old Ron Lee, of Avon, Ind. "But I want Andrew Luck, too. Maybe they could play both of them half the year."
When someone next to Lee told him Peyton would never agree to those terms, he shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know what to do," said Lee. "I don't want Peyton to leave. But I like the prospects of Luck playing for the next 15 years. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't."
The Colts have been here since 1984, when, under the cover of darkness, late owner Robert Irsay packed up the trucks in Baltimore and headed west.
While there was early excitement, the Colts made the playoffs only once in their first 11 seasons and didn't get double-digit wins until Peyton's second season. The Colts have missed the playoffs only twice, 2001 and this season when Manning didn't play.
"Look, Peyton is the reason football is as big as it is here," said Tony Payne, 50, of Indianapolis, who has had season tickets since the team moved to the basketball-crazed Hoosier State. "He's the reason we have this incredible stadium. He's the reason we have this Super Bowl.
"Everybody here loves Peyton Manning. But there is a problem. I think everybody wants him back, if he's healthy. But Peyton's gotta give a little when it comes to his contract."
Like most people, the more Payne spoke, though, the more he started leaning against Peyton staying. His wife, Karen Payne, wearing a white Peyton Manning jersey, would have none of it.
"We want Peyton and that's all there is to it," she said. "It's a business, but if Peyton's healthy, that's who should be the quarterback."