ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- This was going to be a column about how happy Peyton Manning is, how at peace he is in his new home with his new team.
But there was something very telling in his body language Wednesday, and in his answers, and especially in his non-answers, that pointed to something very true and elemental: As much as he loves and misses Indianapolis, he clearly has some issues now with the Indianapolis Colts and owner Jim Irsay, and he'd be perfectly happy to drop about 60 points on the Colts Sunday night.
Eighty, if time permits.
After his mass press conference, we ducked into a doorway at the Denver Broncos facility, and I asked him point-blank, "Do you bear any ill will or resentment toward the Colts?"
The question wasn't just based on the fact Irsay told USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell that he was disappointed by winning one Super Bowl during Manning's career, a story that reached a crescendo after Broncos coach John Fox blasted Irsay on Tuesday, saying the comments were "inappropriate" and a "cheap shot." It was also based on the fact that, well, the Colts let Manning go, felt they would be best served to move on without him.
Manning paused, looked down at the floor, then shook his head.
"To answer a question like that doesn't serve me well," he told The Indianapolis Star. "I feel like the question is based on the (Irsay) comments, so it's just easier not to answer anything along those lines."
What he could have said? Something along the lines of: "I bear them no ill will. They did what they had to do. Now I'm in a spot where I can win a Super Bowl or even multiple championships. It was a win-win for everybody involved."
He didn't say that.
There was another telling give-and-take during the mass press conference at the Broncos' Dove Valley facility.
Manning was asked if he was happy to see the way the Colts picked up the pieces after his departure, the success they've sustained. Again, Manning looked toward the ground. He squirmed. He hemmed and hawed. It was like being asked, "Are you happy your ex-wife has met a really wonderful, rich guy and has never been happier?"
Manning replied, "I guess my focus is on the Broncos being successful."
The question was asked again, noting that the Colts have continued to enjoy success since his departure.
A wry smile.
"I agree," he said. "So does that help your story?"
The guy is a competitor. He might be the most ferocious competitor the modern sports world has ever known, right there with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. And while the circumstances did, in fact, conspire to lead to his common-sense departure from Indianapolis, the bottom-line fact remains: the Colts let him go.
And that's not something he is past.
It's sad this happy homecoming week has been reduced to this nonsense. The fact is, Irsay's comments did not come close to rising to the level of inflammatory. In fact, he's said precisely the same things before. It wasn't until Fox went bananas that this thing reached critical mass, with everybody — Shannon Sharpe, Fran Tarkenton, Todd Helton and everybody this side of President Obama — chiming in with their opinion.
That said, you can see how a manic competitor like Manning might see Irsay as ungrateful or not properly respectful. My personal thought was they were more of a shot at Bill Polian than they were Manning, but again, you could acknowledge how and why Manning might be peeved.
And anybody who stood in front of that podium — or, like me, had a few private moments — would tell you precisely the same thing.
It's all too bad, because this was supposed to be sweet and wonderful week, Sunday becoming a day of tributes, a chance for the fans to get closure. Instead, it's been hijacked.
The warm and fuzzies have been replaced by harsh words and angry eyes. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed.
For all the re-opened wounds, Manning will come back Sunday, and he will come back to a hero's welcome.
He thinks he's ready for all the hype and the love that will shower down upon him. But he's not completely sure. He prepares for everything, but how do you prepare for this?
"I guess it could be (a challenge to stay focused during the pre-game tribute)," he told The Star. "I think it's an individual thing. I remember when Tony (Dungy) went back to Tampa. But it's not like he coached any harder that week, or different … I hope I can rise to the challenge because to say this is unique is a fair statement."
He continued. "It's hard to predict how I will feel emotionally. I just don't know."
A year ago, there were times when Manning looked like a man coming off four difficult neck surgeries. (Of course the Broncos still won 13 games, which is de rigueur for a Manning-led team). This year, he looks like he's back, or almost back, playing some of the best football of his remarkable career.
The numbers are off the charts, and a fifth MVP is a virtual done deal. What nobody understands is just how hard he had to work to come all the way back.
"One thing that kind of helped me, I stopped trying to compare age, where was I when I was 28 or 33," Manning told The Star. "Last year just was frustrating, really difficult. But now I feel like I can compare myself to 2012. And I have made some improvements. Some are the same as last year and will always be different from before I was injured. But now I've got a baseline to compare. Some of it has to do with physical improvement but more of it has to do with comfort, with a new offense, a new coordinator; now there's more familiarity."
He is happy here, happy to be in a scenic, livable city, happy to be with a franchise that has a chance to do great things in the post-season. But he misses Indy. It was his home for so long. Manning was Indy.
"You certainly miss a lot of things about Indianapolis," he said. "I miss a lot of friends in Indy. St. Elmo's. The Slippery Noodle. Amalfi's.
"But you have to have peace with circumstances that come your way that aren't your choice. You better have a good attitude about it and find some peace and contentment in it. But I've worked hard to create some of it and I've had a lot of people help me with it."
I asked if he knew where the Lucas Oil Stadium visitor's locker room was located.
He shook his head.
"I'll just follow the arrows," he said with a smile.
Lucas Oil will be familiar, but the Colts team he's playing is not. It's only been a few years, but there are not a lot of holdovers from the Manning era.
"There are a lot of guys on that team (the Colts) that could care less about my time in Indianapolis," he said. "There are a lot of guys on this team that could care less about my time somewhere else. But when you see Robert Mathis or Antoine Bethea, guys that you're close to, guys that you played in some huge games with, there really is a bond.
"But when you're getting ready to play them, on film, it's a challenge. Somebody asked me earlier, 'Is this kind of like playing against Eli (Manning)?' And I said, 'I know Robert Mathis hits harder that Eli, I can guarantee you that.'"
There are so many unanswered questions, of course, but they are questions that will likely remain unanswered for as long as Manning continues to play.
How healthy was he when the Colts let him go?
What are his true feelings about Irsay and the organization?
What was it like to stand at the podium that day in spring of 2011 and tell fans how much he enjoyed being their quarterback for all those years?
What was it like to fly back to Indianapolis with Irsay the night the divorce was finalized?
When did he accept the fact that his days were done in Indianapolis?
Manning did not want to re-hash the past, and that's perfectly understandable. He's got a game to play, a game to win.
He's coming back to Indianapolis with a heightened sense of purpose, a reason to annihilate the Colts with the Broncos "Star Wars'' offense.
It was a messy divorce. And the reunion hasn't been much tidier, either.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, a Gannett property.