Irsay: Peyton backed Luck, I want rings

Things could have ended very badly, with a very bitter taste, for both Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

Thanks to Andrew Luck, though — and a little career renaissance by Manning — both sides can head into this week’s Broncos-Colts contest saying they’re happy with the way it worked out. In fact, it was Manning himself who pushed Indianapolis to select Luck in the first place, team owner Jim Irsay revealed in a recent USA Today interview.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to take Andrew,’” Irsay recalls. “‘You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t.’”

And yet, while Irsay had mostly nice things to say about his former QB during the interview, he did drop in one pretty big knock against Manning — namely that despite his great statistics, Manning was not winning championships.

“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay said, motioning to his Super Bowl ring. “(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these. Pittsburgh had two. The Giants had two. Baltimore had two, and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.

“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the ‘Star Wars’ numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this (the ring).”

That criticism has been used many times in the Brady-Manning debate, with Manning detractors saying he could produce gaudy statistics year to year but couldn’t win big games. It’s something else for Irsay to be mentioning it — although he seemed to be pointing to it for more practical reasons. Manning’s MVP-quality play season after season meant he was commanding a huge salary.

“Circumstances created this decision,” Irsay said. “You have to understand there’s no way (the current Colts success) occurs if (Manning is) in Indy. It’s just impossible, where our salary cap was — having him stay at the type of (salary) number that he expected and deserved to earn and all those things.”

As the Colts prepared to move on from Manning in 2012, Irsay said the legendary QB tried to see things from the team’s perspective.

The Colts ended up cutting Manning loose and drafting Luck No. 1 overall. Manning, although parting with the organization that had long been his, got to jump into a winning situation right away with the Broncos, while Indianapolis rebuilt quickly under Luck and a new coach.

“I think it’s perfect,” Irsay said. “What happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended. And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning.”

Both the Colts and the Broncos made the playoffs last year, with both Luck and Manning receiving individual praise for their role in leading their respective teams.