Doctor clears Peyton Manning to play, but what’s left to prove?

Super Bowl XLVI has got to be a super headache for Peyton Manning.

If it wasn’t enough that he had to endure a 2-14 season with the Indianapolis Colts watching from the sidelines due to injury, now he has to watch the Super Bowl being played on his own home field, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. If that wasn’t bad enough, the game will feature his younger brother, quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants, as well as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a man generally seen as his greatest rival.

In short, it would have been impossible for the elder Manning to stay out of the headlines this week, even if his life hadn’t been complicated by the mercurial owner of the Colts, Jim Irsay, and an odd celebrity tweet. Of course, the real driver here is the $28 million bonus that Manning is due in March, one that Irsay might be reluctant to pay when his team’s future could very well be dependent on the future of Stanford University senior Andrew Luck, the presumptive top pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.

But even when Manning gets good news, it looks like his owner is keeping his options open when it comes to pushing him out the door and out of town. Only a few hours ago, Manning announced that the surgeon who had performed the latest procedure on his neck had medically cleared him to play football. But after getting that good news, it wasn’t long before the Colts and Irsay countered with a statement saying, “Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts.”

It would all seem sad if we hadn’t seen this story play out before. After all, there are plenty of other NFL greats who were forced to seek out new employment at the ends of their careers once their futures became complicated by injury. Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Kurt Warner, Ken Stabler and even Joe Montana eventually pulled up stakes to try to win a championship elsewhere after their original teams decided it was time to cut the cord.

Which makes one wonder if Manning shouldn’t just walk away now. He’s guaranteed himself a comfortable future and has secured his place in the history of the game as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. And if history is any guide, leaving Indianapolis in hopes of winning a championship with another team might just be a fool’s errand. After all, as great as those other quarterbacks I just listed above were, only one of them ever got back to a Super Bowl (Warner) after leaving his original team.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.