INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning tried to take the air out of “Deflategate” on Friday.
Even the evasive Broncos quarterback couldn’t make the questions disappear.
Two days after The Wells Report implicated Tom Brady and two team employees for underinflating footballs, Manning returned to his first NFL home and attempted to sidestep the issue three times.
“Like I said, I’ll speak it as clearly and slowly as I can. He’s my friend, he’ll always be my friend,” Manning told reporters before a fundraiser for the Indianapolis children’s hospital named in his honor. “I don’t know what happened, I don’t have much more than that for you.”
Manning and just about everyone else is trying to avoid the topic at all costs as league officials contemplate potential punishments.
Brady shed no substantive light on the matter in an interview Thursday night.
Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson, who tipped off league officials about the improper footballs in a letter to the NFL office before the AFC championship game, has not uttered a word since the report was released. Neither has team owner Jim Irsay.
And Indy coach Chuck Pagano sidestepped the issue Friday as the Colts opened a three-day rookie minicamp.
“Really, we’ve moved on and our focus is these young guys, our draft choices, the CFAs (college free agents), the tryout guys and evaluating these guys and seeing exactly what we have,” Pagano said.
Even fun-loving Colts punter Pat McAfee toned it down.
After being chosen as the pace car driver for Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, McAfee was asked whether he would check the air pressure in the Corvette Stingray he’ll drive at the start of Saturday’s race. He took a few laps with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, then was asked about his take on a report he said he has not read.
“It is a shame that a shadow is being cast over our sport right now because we have such a wonderful sport,” McAfee said. “Hopefully, we’ll get through this and people will be talking about something instead of this.”
Of course, Manning didn’t come to Indianapolis to talk about the Patriots. He came here to raise money.
The hospital is trying to raise $8 million to build the St. Vincent House, which will house families of patients who live more than 30 miles away from Indianapolis.
This is the fourth time he’s returned for the fundraiser since being released by the Colts in March 2012. Manning eventually signed with Denver and led the Broncos to an AFC title after the 2013 season, but he has continued to stay involved with the hospital. This year’s headline entertainer was country music star Dierks Bentley. And Manning’s parents also were in town Friday.
It’s a cause that remains close to his heart.
“Obviously, I can’t be there as much as I used to be not living here year-round, but I still write a lot of letters, make a lot of calls to patients and families,” he said. “We have a lot of rooms over there that probably have too many pictures of me. They probably get tired of looking at me. But let’s face it, nobody wants to be in the hospital.”
The 39-year-old Manning continues to have strong support in Indy. He’s 1-2 against his former team, including a playoff loss last season in Denver, and he will face the Colts again at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 8. It could be the final appearance in Indy for Manning, who is on pace to break the career record for yards passing that week.
Still, he’s hoping the next game is less about him.
“We’ve got a good, healthy schedule. You always kind of look to see who you’re going to play and where,” Manning said. “We knew we had to come back here to play, which, I think the second time around we kind of get to concentrate on the football part of it.”
And by then, maybe he can avoid talking about another subject he knows little about: the science of footballs.
“I went to Tennessee, I can’t give you that much information,” Manning said sarcastically. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”