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INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis to face the Colts and Andrew Luck, the player who replaced him as the face of the franchise, has been one of the most heavily anticipated games on this year's NFL schedule.
The Colts will embrace Manning during a pregame video tribute before trying to hand the undefeated Denver Broncos their first loss of the season.
But there has been a sideshow that was started by a "cheap shot" from Colts owner Jim Irsay, according to Broncos coach John Fox, that has overshadowed the hype of the game. Irsay, Manning, Fox, Tony Dungy, Todd Helton and Bill Polian all had their parts in it.
"It's a shame it got to this," Irsay told ESPN.com in a phone interview. "This past week was not supposed to be like that, but the sideshow unfortunately is something that's an illusion because I didn't take a shot at Peyton.
|The last time Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck shared a field was at the Pro Bowl in January. They'll face off in Indianapolis on Sunday.|
"It's such a misrepresentation. It's unbelievable."
The back-and-forth trash talking began with Irsay's interview with USA Today in which he talked about the direction of the franchise in the post-Manning years.
Irsay believes his comments to the newspaper about evolving Indianapolis' philosophy on team-building in an attempt to win more Super Bowls were taken out of context. He gave a similar interview to the Associated Press on July 24, when he said, "there was a conscious effort to make sure we had more balance and tighten up special teams" when talking about the Colts' offseason moves.
Irsay said he conducted the interview with USA Today at the owners' meetings in Washington on Oct. 7. The newspaper posted the story online this past Monday.
Fox, being a motivator, gave the Broncos bulletin material by publicly sticking up for Manning when he said Irsay's comments were "disappointing and inappropriate."
Dungy said Irsay was making it personal while Helton, a former teammate of Manning at the University of Tennessee, said Irsay was an "idiot" for his "classless" comments. Polian, the Colts' former general manager, said Friday on "SportsCenter" that his "heart" is with the Broncos in Sunday's game because this "one is for Peyton."
Polian was fired by Irsay after the 2011 season.
"No, I'm not going to respond," Irsay said about Polian's remarks. "I know the truth."
Manning gave a hint that there may be some strain with Irsay when he declined to talk about his relationship with him earlier this week.
"It's extremely unfortunate what has happened because it misrepresents the fact of my love and appreciation for all the things Peyton has done and the way he was treated as a Colt every minute he was here," Irsay said. "This perception that I'm negative toward Peyton and I don't appreciate the things he did is so far from the truth.
"Never once was it said I was disappointed Peyton didn't win us more than one championship."
The Colts will still honor Manning with a minute-long video tribute before Sunday's game, and all sides will go their separate ways until they meet again at some point despite the unnecessary distractions during the week.
"I think it's a great weekend because the Broncos and Colts are flourishing," Irsay said. "That was the plan. We wanted Peyton to have a chance to win another Super Bowl. We have a chance to honor him like we did other players that came back. He's one of the greatest players. In the end you look for a great football game, and that's what you hope for."