As Indy shines, Manning question looms

It’s a strange time in Indianapolis.

The city’s on center stage as Super Bowl host, and the early reviews are excellent. I expect it to be as good a week in a cold-weather setting as we’ve seen because of the easy logistics of a compact downtown.

A Super Bowl week gives a city a chance to celebrate itself, and Indianapolis is doing so.

But all of it comes with a big, hovering and unavoidable question: What will happen with the Colts and Peyton Manning?

It’s hard to find anyone now who expects the Colts -- with a new GM, a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft -- to pay Manning a $28 million bonus on March 8. When they don’t, he’ll be a free agent with questions about nerve regeneration and arm strength still lingering from the next surgery he had before last season started.

Colleague Elizabeth Merrill spent time in Indianapolis to get a sense of how it's feeling with its long-time superstar quarterback’s fate so uncertain.

When Indianapolis won the bid to host the Super Bowl four years ago, it never could have imagined this: That the big event would be played in the backdrop of a miserable 2-14 Colts season, with its seemingly unbreakable quarterback out with a neck injury and now presumably on his way out of town.

Is Peyton Manning done in Indianapolis? That -- and not the merits of the two Super Bowl teams -- was the big news last week. The Colts aren't saying anything except for an occasional statement that assures the masses all is well on West 56th Street. But change is thick in the air, from the firing of coach Jim Caldwell and vice chairman Bill Polian to the draft day that is looming with young phenom Andrew Luck waiting with the No. 1 pick.

"I think the mourning process has begun," said longtime Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, whose lengthy and rare interview with Manning last week revealed a quarterback who is obviously uncomfortable with all the change.

"I think as the Super Bowl arrives, and as geeked as people are, there's this cloud where people are starting to come to grips with the very real, not just possibility, but the likelihood that Peyton Manning is not going to be on that team anymore, that he's played his final down as a Colt."