By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jim Irsay is trying to put a happy face on an ugly public spectacle.
After Peyton Manning stole the big stage from his little brother, Eli, all week, the Indianapolis Colts owner tried to resolve the second public spat in two weeks with his star quarterback. The latest controversy is over Manning's health and whether he's actually been cleared to start taking hits again.
"Peyton Manning, Jim Irsay and the entire Colts family remain close and unified as we continue to work through all the options that relate to his future with the Colts," Irsay said in a statement that included a color photo from his private party Thursday night.
The photo shows NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell between the smiling Manning and a thrilled-looking Irsay, flanked on the ends by actress Meg Ryan and singer John Mellencamp.
But it was a much happier scene than the public image that has evolved over the past two weeks.
The party was taking place at about the same time Manning's surgeon confirmed that Manning had been cleared to play. A few hours later, Irsay responded tersely on Twitter.
"Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for the Indianapolis Colts," he wrote.
The ruckus didn't stop Manning from making a scheduled visit to a local grade school along with Brandon Marshall and Roddy White on Friday, but Manning did not allow print media into the event and was not available for questions.
Meanwhile, Manning's agent, Tom Condon, told NFL Network that the four-time league MVP would play in 2012, a point Manning made perfectly clear when he told reporters Tuesday that he did not plan to retire despite missing the entire 2011 season after having his third neck surgery in 19 months.
It didn't change the likelihood of a nasty divorce between the Colts and the longtime face of their franchise.
The biggest question is Manning's health. He was cleared to practice in December and has been throwing for at least two months, but the Colts want to know whether Manning can regain the arm strength that made him a perennial Pro Bowler.
Manning's doctor and agent insist he's healthy.
"He is sound. He can take a hit. He can certainly play in a football game," Condon said. "How effective will he be? Probably not as effective as he would be in two to three months."
The Colts still aren't sure and will have to decide whether to pay a $28 million roster bonus by March 8 or risk losing him as a free agent.
Manning has said he does not expect to retire, and not everyone is convinced his career is over.
A group of Tennessee Titans placed an electronic billboard message on northbound I-65 on Friday: "Peyton you're going the wrong way." The highway runs between Indy and Nashville, Tenn.
Even some Colts fans want Manning to stay.
"It would be incredibly sad to see him go and I'd hate to be Irsay. I want him to stay," said Keith Harden, a 51-year-old Indy native who was wearing a Reggie Wayne jersey. "No, I don't think it's hurt his (Manning's) image. I think he's fighting to stay, and I like that."
But things could get much worse before Irsay makes his decison.
"Jimmy and Peyton have had a strong relationship for a really long time," Condon said. "They've been great friends besides the business relationship. But this is a tough time, there is potential that you could be separated from a team he's been a part of for a long time."
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