SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Indianapolis and Peyton Manning view his return with mixed emotions

Then again, Manning's statistics caused a mini-controversy this week. Denver Coach John Fox jumped to his quarterback's defense after Colts owner Jim Irsay publicly expressed regret the team didn't win more Super Bowls with Manning at the helm.

When asked to elaborate on what his relationship has been like with Irsay since the Colts released him, Manning was curt.

"No," he said. "I can't and I won't."

Irsay said people misinterpreted his comments and this week reiterated his admiration of Manning.

"He's a historical icon and a great friend of mine," the owner said. "It's something where what he means to our organization is, as I said, the greatest Indianapolis Colt ever. I don't have to wait about No. 18 being retired. That jersey is already retired even though he's still playing. My respect for him is immense."

Manning's most important completion didn't happen on the football field. It was the 2007 dedication of the Indianapolis children's hospital that bears his name, Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent. With his annual gala and associated donations, Manning has raised more than $7 million for the hospital.

Murals of him playing adorn the halls, as do his framed Colts, Broncos and University of Tennessee jerseys. There are several Manning-themed rooms, painted blue and white, decorated with jerseys, helmets, pennants, magazine covers, Wheaties boxes, and large flat-screen TVs.

"I could call him and say, 'We'd really like you to come up to the hospital and meet with this family or this patient,'" said Vince Caponi, the hospital's executive board chairman. "If he was available, he'd get in his car and drive up there without a lot of hoopla. He'd just go in one of the back doors and go up and visit patients.

"When he would go into a patient's room, he'd be really focused on the patient. He'd want to know where they went to school, what sports they played, how well they did in school, what kind of illness did they have, how the doctors and nurses are treating them. Rather than the focus being on a superstar athlete, the superstar was the pediatric patient."

Madeline Helpling got that treatment recently. She's a 19-year-old patient at the hospital who's fighting high-grade osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

"She got a phone call from Peyton," said her grandmother, Debbie Stansbury. "It was shocking to her because it was a blocked call, and normally she ignores those. But for whatever reason, she answered it. From what I understand, he had asked the oncology [ward] to give some names to uplift some oncology patients because obviously they have the longest stay. They said Madeline could use it."

How fitting that Manning would call.

Madeline was in Room 18.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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