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U.S.: "Crisis in Syria Reaches 'New Low'' Peyton Manning Dropped from Colts; Santorum Supporters To Gingrich: Get Out; American Airlines Won't Dump Pensions; Ann Romney's Message to Women; Space Shuttle Endeavour

Aired March 7, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, the United Nations emergency relief chief gets inside the besieged Syrian city of Homs amid reports of a frantic government scramble to try to clean up signs of the bloody massacre underway.

Plus, Sarah Palin's rare and revealing interview with CNN -- why the former Republican vice presidential nominee won't close the door on a presidential run now or in the future.

And "nothing lasts forever" -- emotional words from NFL star Peyton Manning -- dropped, dropped after more than a decades as the legendary backbone of the Indianapolis Colts.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


First to what the Obama administration is now calling a new low for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. For the first time, a top United Nations relief chief and aid workers briefly -- very briefly -- got into Baba Amr, one of the country's most devastated, ravaged neighborhoods. This as another 40 people were killed today. And the Syrian regime is being slammed for denying innocent civilians tons of food and medicine.

And Nic Robertson is joining us from Beirut right now.

He's monitoring the situation in Syria -- Nic, as you know, a key United Nations official is now in Syria.

But is she really getting access to see the reality that's underway?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's the first independent international observer that we're aware of who's been able to get into the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs. The Syrian government allowed her to do that today after she had had a meeting with the Syrian foreign minister.

She went in there with the Syrian Red Crescent. We're told it was a very short visit. But we don't have any details, as of yet, about what she saw, what she was able to do. We certainly know the way the Syrian government has been presenting this neighborhood that held out for almost four weeks against constant bombardment and shelling by the government. They've been portraying it as an area where people can move back in, that they've cleaned it up, it's been a terrorist stronghold.

So only one can imagine what the government has shown her, perhaps what they show people on state television, which is people walking through the neighborhood, big trucks digging up all the rubble and what the government calls these -- these places where they, as they call them, terrorists, have been hiding their weapons.

But, again, we don't know the details so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are also reports, Nic, that some -- some Syrian residents of Baba Amr are beginning to go back to their old neighborhoods.

What do we know about this?

ROBERTSON: This is what the Syrian government is saying on state television. We have no independent chance to go and check this and verify it. The Syrian government won't let journalists go into the country.

We know that the Red Cross and the Red Crescent today were allowed to go to some of the residents of Baba Amr who had fled the neighborhood and are still living in terrible humanitarian conditions. The Red Cross wanting to give them blankets, medical aid, food aid. And they say that they've been to these neighboring villages in the area, where the people of Baba Amr are still sheltering.

But we don't have an independent picture. And, certainly, the activists who used to be in Baba Amr, the government shut down all their operations there when they swept into that neighborhood a week ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say the awful situation continues.

Nic Robertson, thanks very much.

And joining us now to talk about Syria, Iran and more, the former U.S. Mideast envoy, Dennis Ross. He was one of President Obama's top advisers on Middle East policy at the National Security Council until recently.

He's now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Ambassador Ross, thanks very much for coming in. As you know, there's a huge debate unfolding right now over whether or not the U.S. should use military power to do something about the slaughter in Syria.

Listen to Senator John McCain today.

He was at the Senate Armed Services Committee and has had -- he said this, because he wants a no-fly zone, at a minimum.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Can you tell us how long -- how much longer the killing would have to continue, how many additional civilian lives would have to be lost in order to convince you that the military measures of this kind that we are proposing necessary to end the killing and force it to leave power?


BLITZER: He was questioning Leon Panetta, the Defense secretary.

Is it time for the U.S. to do in Syria what it did in Libya?

DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: Well, I certainly -- I definitely think it's time for us to think about what additional steps can be taken to put increasing pressure on Assad and also put Assad in a position where he begins to himself have doubt about whether he can keep things going the way they are.

Now, whether that's a case of using military force, that's a different issue, because it isn't a simple proposition to go into Syria. They have very dense air defenses. This is not something you could suddenly do simply overnight. You'd have to plan it. You do have to think through a lot of different kinds of challenges. And I think doing it on our own would also not necessarily transform the situation for the better.

So I think the real question is, what are the additional steps that can be taken to put more pressure on Assad?

And I do think there are a number. I think at -- at a minimum, we do have to think much more about humanitarian corridors. We have to think about safe areas. I think we do have to think about what could be done with regard to lethal assistance, if it's channeled through Jordan and through Turkey.

I also think it's very important that we work very much with the -- I think, with the Arabs, to put much more pressure on the Russians.

Bashar al-Assad has basically created a sense that he has an insurance policy because the Russians will block any sort of intervention from the outside. If that insurance policy were to go away, the very balance of forces and psychology in Syria might change.

So there are things that can be done. And I think the issue of looking at options that previously hadn't been on the table definitely have to be looked at.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran now, because you were the president's point man in Iran in the National Security Council until you recently left.

How much of a difference is there right now, based on everything you know, between the -- what the president wants to do as far as Iran's nuclear program is concerned and what the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to be done?

ROSS: I don't think the gaps are, in fact, very large. I mean the truth is, I think there's a great deal of alignment. There's a convergence on objectives, which is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. There's a convergence on the means, meaning the preferred way to produce this is through diplomatic means.

Clearly, there's a question of how much time do you give diplomacy to work?

I think the Israelis also accept, even if there's not a lot of time, there is time. The Israeli themselves are the ones who came up with the concept of crippling sanctions because they believe that with the right kinds of pressures on the Iranians, you may well get the Iranians to change their behavior.

From an Israeli standpoint, there's an issue of not allowing diplomacy to go so long that their own ability to use military force for diplomacy fails, disappears as an option.

I think from an American standpoint, there's this -- at this juncture, we think we have the time and space. But I don't believe that the president is interested in getting into a diplomatic process that is open-ended and has no prospects of producing anything.

BLITZER: Realistically, how much time is there?

ROSS: Well, I definitely think we have the next several months, because I think the -- the crippling sanctions have to be applied and work. You have negotiations that are likely to begin within the coming month. Giving those negotiations a chance of several months to produce something. If they do, you know you're in a different -- in a different place. If they don't, then you also know that you've given diplomacy a chance. The key is always to exhaust all the options available before you think of using force.

BLITZER: How good is U.S. intelligence on the whole Iranian nuclear program?

Because we all know the blunders of the WMDs in Iraq that led to the Iraq War.

ROSS: Well, this is not a case only of the United States being extremely vigilant about this. We are. The Israelis are. The British are. The French are. There has been a great deal of attention and focus on this particular program, number one. Number two, every time the Iranians have engaged in covert programs, we or others have exposed them. So the truth is, the Iranians don't know what we know. We can't be certain we always know what's going on. But the kind of focus that we've put on this, the fact that the IAEA inspectors are in there every couple of weeks, gives us a pretty good window into what's going on.

If they were to suddenly kick out the IAEA inspectors, we would be, obviously, in a position where you have a kind of provocation or a trigger that puts us in a very different place than we are today.

BLITZER: Our Matthew Chance is reporting from Vienna, where the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is headquartered. They have meetings underway right now, that there's evidence, satellite imagery, if you will, showing that the Iranians are cleaning up a sensitive nuclear site right now, in advance of potentially allowing U.N. inspectors back in.

What do you know about this?

ROSS: Well, I don't know much more than what you reported. It doesn't surprise me. The fact is, this is a site that the Iranians have denied access to. It is a site that the IAEA believes that they have conducted weapons- related experiments at. And the fact that they are now saying well, we're going to allow a certain set of ground rules so that you can come and -- and look at this site is another reminder that, at this particular juncture, the Iranians are feeling the pressure, that they're ready to come back into talks without conditions. That was not their position before. And suddenly they're saying we're going to allow access to a site.

But clearly, it looks like they're trying to clean up that site before they allow the access. There are indications that they're feeling the pressure. And that is a reminder that there is a potential for diplomacy to work.

Diplomacy has only had a chance with the Iranians on this particular issue if they feel the pressure is so great that they have to find a way to reduce it.

The point is, the only way they're going to find a way to reduce it is to actually change their program.

BLITZER: Ambassador Ross, thanks very much for coming in.

ROSS: My pleasure.

Thank you.

BLITZER: So, is the Republican battle for the White House headed straight for the convention?

Sarah Palin says anything is possible. And she says she could be ready to jump into the race if that were to happen.

Also, the legendary Peyton Manning suddenly dropped by his football team. Why his emotional farewell -- he was crying today -- is sending shockwaves far beyond the world of sports.

And parts of it apparently not much bigger than a bread box.

Just ahead, we're going to have a a rare look at the Space Shuttle Endeavour as you probably, almost certainly, have never seen it before.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was all sitting right there for the taking, but once again, Mitt Romney came up a little short.

Romney's inability to score a knockout on Super Tuesday means the Republican bloodbath continues, much to the delight of President Obama and the Democrats.

Romney scored a key victory over Rick Santorum in Ohio, albeit a slim one. He won five other states, as well.

But his losses were far more telling.

For starters, the former Massachusetts governor has problems in the South. He couldn't top 28 percent in any of the Southern contested states. He lost both Georgia and Tennessee. He also lost Oklahoma.

And as we have seen from the start, Romney has serious issues with the base.

They'd rather back Santorum, who's still fighting the culture wars, talking about birth control and religion and how JFK's stance on the separation of church and state made him want to vomit. Independents are another sore spot for Romney. One poll shows his unfavorable rating 16 points higher than his favorable rating among them.

CNN's Howard Kurtz writes in "The Daily Beast" column that there's something distinctly unimpressive about Romney's performance against Rick Santorum, an under funded former U.S. senator who lost his last reelection bid in Pennsylvania by 18 points. Kurtz says "Romney projects confidence, but does not inspire." That's a quote.

Romney still the party is likely the nominee, but it could take a couple of more months to wrap it all up. By the way, there's no way, no way that Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul is going to be the next president of the United States, so isn't it past time for them to maybe put their party ahead of themselves and drop out? Apparently not.

Here's the question, why can't Mitt Romney seal the deal? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much. One day after voters intense states weighed in as part of the Super Tuesday Republican primaries and caucuses, and the race for the Republican nomination is still wide open right now. Mitt Romney won the most states and the most delegates, but Rick Santorum showed he still is a strong force.

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns is in Kansas right now with the Santorum campaign. Joe, what's the mood there among the people you're talking to with the campaign?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Rick Santorum appearing here in this room in Lenexa, Kansas, just probably about an hour ago or so, really telling his supporters, at least, in his view, he's got to win in this state, win big, but the main conversation this day, I think, has been about Newt Gingrich and whether he ought to get out of race.

People in Santorum circles talking about that a bit, but the candidate himself simply trying not to go there.


JOHNS (voice-over): The strong Super Tuesday for Rick Santorum, winning three states, plus coming within a point of winning the Ohio primary means he's still in the game.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have won in the west, the Midwest, and the south, and we're ready to win across this country.


JOHNS: Though the picture might be a lot clearer if he didn't have to share part of the conservative vote with Newt Gingrich. Exit polls in Ohio show Santorum got 47 percent of the White evangelical vote, and Gingrich got 15 percent.

SANTORUM: I'm not saying I don't want him to get out. If he wants to get out, I'm all for him getting out, but I'm all for Mitt Romney -- I'm for everybody getting out. I wish President Obama would just hand me the thing.

JOHNS: The should-Gingrich-get-out question touch off a battle of surrogates and supporters. The pro-Santorum Super PAC, Red, White, and Blue Fund was blunt about it, issuing a statement, saying, "It is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process."

Former candidate, Herman Cain, now out of the race and a Newt Gingrich supporter tweeted that only one third of the delegates have been allocated. It's too early to call on a candidate to get out of the race. Ironic, perhaps, because Gingrich himself once actually called on Santorum to get out of the race.

But on the radio post-Super Tuesday, he all but dismissed the idea of surrendering the stage to Santorum now. FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I congratulate Rick on what he's done, so far. But I'll also point out again, Santorum lost his Senate seat by the largest margin in the history of Pennsylvania. If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out. I don't.

JOHNS: Gingrich's daughter, Jackie, told me in an interview that her father's campaign still sees fiscal conservatives turning against Santorum.

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, CANDIDATE'S DAUGHTER: He's actually not fiscally conservative. He's against the right to work, he's held fast (ph) with the unions, and he'll say that's because, you know, I'm from Pennsylvania and that's what I have to do. In the last debate, he actually said, gosh, I had to vote that way, but I really didn't want to vote that way?

I mean, this is not the kind of person that you want to go and stand up against the Washington establishment.


JOHNS (on-camera): We're in Kansas right now, but it's not just about Kansas. Over the next several days, Santorum is expected to do some jumping around between the next states that are up, including Alabama. Clearly, Wolf, he's not giving up and he's not slowing down. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thank you.

So, who's the richest person in the world right now? "Forbes" is out with its annual list of billionaires. We're going to tell you who tops the list.

Also, major safety recall for a popular SUV. We have details. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including a deadly blast in Afghanistan. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Six UK soldiers are missing and presumed dead after an explosion in Southwest Afghanistan. The British military says they were traveling in an armored vehicle that hit a landmine. If the deaths are confirmed, it would be the most British troops killed in a single day in Afghanistan since 2009.

American Airlines is backtracking on a plan to terminate its worker's pension plans. The pensions would have been dumped on a federal agency as part of a bankruptcy organization. The plan is now to freeze pensions, meaning employees would not accumulate any additional benefits. It's seen as a win for the unions. And if you drive a jeep and live in a coal state, well, be careful. Chrysler is recalling 210,000 Jeep Liberties, because road salt could, which is use to melt snow, could cause parts of the rear suspension to corrode and break. The jeeps in question are to the 2004-2005 models. Chrysler says it will start notifying owners who are affected next month.

And the U.S. has more billionaires than any other country. That's according to "Forbes" new list of the world's richest people. No surprises, at the top of the list, at number three, Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, comes in second.

And retaining his spot for the third year in a row, Mexican telecommunications mogul, Carlos Slim Helu. Another billionaire of note, though, the wife of Steve Jobs is now the 100th richest person in the world after inheriting her husband's money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I always like to look at that list. It's always fun to see, the billionaires. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Sarah Palin tells CNN she isn't, isn't closing the door on a presidential run, and she could jump into the race sooner than some people might thing. Just ahead, what she's not telling CNN in a rare interview.

Plus, you may have watched the blastoff from miles away, but imagine seeing the massive space shuttle "Endeavour" up close. Our own John Zarrella got an extraordinary look inside.

And a football icon, Peyton Manning's, shocking goodbye to the Indianapolis Colts.


PEYTON MANNING, PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER: I haven't thought yet about where I'll play, but I have a thought about where I've been. And I've truly been blessed. I've been blessed to play here. I've been blessed to be in the NFL.



BLITZER: The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is making some political waves of her own, revealing in a rare interview with CNN she isn't, isn't ruling out a presidential run, whether it's down the road or possibly even sooner.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Sarah Palin for president 2016, is it possible?

SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: Anything in this life, in this world is possible. Anything is possible for an American. And, you know, I don't discount any idea or plan that, at this point, isn't in my control. Anything is possible.

VERCAMMEN: But would you seriously consider a run?

PALIN: I would seriously consider whatever I can do to help our country to put things back on the right track, our economy, the foreign policy proposals that we have to see put forward in order to secure our homeland and the American -- our brave fighting men and women who are overseas right now in places that, perhaps, we shouldn't be right now, anything that I can do to help.

VERCAMMEN: If we wind up with an open convention and someone wants to place your name, throw your name into the hat, would you stop them? Would you be open to that?

PALIN: As I say, anything is possible. And I don't close any doors that, perhaps, would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn't close that door and my plan is to be at that convention.


BLITZER: Sarah Palin speaking with our own Paul Vercammen in Wasilla, Alaska just after she voted -- she voted, by the way for Newt Gingrich. Let's talk about that and more with our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, the talk of a brokered convention in Tampa at the end of August, a fifth candidate potentially getting in. Is any of this realist (ph)?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you to the majority of the candidates currently in the race, the four of them, the answer to that is no. You remember there was a Huckabee forum not too long ago attended by everyone except for Ron Paul. And at that forum, I do know that the three folks there -- Santorum, Gingrich and Romney -- talked about this whole like, what, you know just a general conversation, what do you think about this idea of a brokered convention?

And I am told by a source that in fact they all agreed that the idea that someone would come from out of nowhere in the convention, not having run up to that point, and become the nominee is impractical, and largely impossible, because it would only give them 10 weeks to put a campaign up and run against the president in November. So I can tell you three of the major candidates now in that race don't think it's likely that someone will come out of nowhere and become the nominee of a brokered convention.

BLITZER: Our own Anderson Cooper just taped an interview with John McCain. Listen to this exchange, Candy, and we'll discuss.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Your former running mate, Governor Palin was on CNN last night saying she would leave the door open to her name being placed into nomination if there was a contested convention. What was your reaction to that?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well I'm glad to see that Sarah is still willing to get in the arena. I greatly admire and respect her and so, Sarah, you know, I view with great interest your comment last night, but I also think that, you know, that this thing is going to be resolved hopefully sooner for Mitt Romney than later.


BLITZER: John McCain, a Romney supporter. You've been talking to the Romney campaign, Candy. They're convinced that he's going to be the nominee no matter how long this potentially goes on, right?

CROWLEY: They are indeed. They say look we've done the math. It's all but impossible, or at least is a Herculean effort for the others with what's coming ahead to overtake Mitt Romney in the nomination. Flatly they say what Mitt Romney has said flatly, I'm going to be the nominee. He said that last night in his speech up in Boston and his folks are saying that now. It may be a long, drawn-out thing, but look they believe that mathematically it's not possible.

Now Santorum's campaign says look they are spinning this, and obviously it is you know in the best interest of the Romney campaign for them to sort of you know get the word out that look these guys can't win, let's all come on home, let's get together, because we've got bigger fish to fry come November. Now the question is how does that happen? And basically the feeling inside the Romney campaign is that you will see more people like George Pataki, former governor of New York who came out apparently and said, look, Mitt Romney is my guy, it's time for us all to come together.

They think you will see more of that in the days ahead. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but that kind of thing is coming, possibly there will be some defections of big names that have gone to these other camps, but they honestly say that they believe this is Mitt Romney's nomination, but I will point out again that the Santorum people are pushing back very hard saying it is not impossible mathematically.

And I will say the Romney campaign doesn't say it's impossible, they just say, look it's just -- there are no Super Tuesdays left, no big caches of delegates that folks can pick up. So they feel fairly confident in the Romney campaign that this is going to happen sooner or later. They would prefer sooner, of course.

BLITZER: But looking ahead, Kansas this Saturday, Mississippi, Alabama next Tuesday, potentially not necessarily good days for Romney.

CROWLEY: No, and I think then you'll hear them talk a lot about the delegate count. And they feel like in places that we're going to place first, we're going to play strong seconds, we will pick up delegates, and here is how this will unfold.

So they acknowledge that there are going to be places that are not going to be good for them. They also note that there are going to be places like New Jersey that are not Maryland, that are not going to be good for Rick Santorum or for Newt Gingrich, so they say there will be nights when Romney doesn't win the state. They still be he will be picking up delegates along the way and this is now a matter of mathematics, addition and subtraction.

BLITZER: Candy thanks very much. And with a new dose of momentum after last night's Super Tuesday wins Mitt Romney is zeroing in on one critical voting bloc (ph). We're talking about women and he's relying on one of his most valuable assets to do it. We're talking about his wife Ann. Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's got this part of the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's already a battle under way with Democrats for women voters and Ann Romney was front and center last night with a clear message to women.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have something to say about some of the women that I'm hearing from.

SNOW (voice-over): It was a telling sign. Ann Romney was on stage to introduce her husband. She led with a message targeted to women.

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: Women care about the economy, they care about their children, and they care about the debt, and they're angry and they're furious about the entitlement debt that we're leaving our children.

SNOW: Translation, change the conversation back to the economy and away from social issues, namely birth control.

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL WRITER: I think it was very telling. I mean Ann Romney has a very appealing presence. I think that she's an asset to Governor Romney on the campaign trail, but I think that it really says that the front-runner for the Republican nomination certainly knows that he has some fences to mend with women voters.

SNOW: But Melinda Henneberger of "The Washington Post", "She The People" blog, says the candidate should be making his own case. It all comes in the wake of the Rush Limbaugh flap, just the latest in a string of moments some say missteps, where Republicans have faced questions over their position on contraception coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are the women?

SNOW: Democrats are pushing the notion of a GOP war on women, but Karin Agness, a conservative blogger says that's wrong. The real issue, she says is not birth control, rather religious liberty. And while she admits Republicans may need to hone their message, she thinks it's smart for the Romney campaign to put Ann Romney front and center.

KARIN AGNESS, PRES. NETWORK OF ENLIGHTENED WOMEN: A few months ago, there was a big issue of trying, of the need to create a more human Mitt Romney. And she came out and gave some speeches, and is able to have some success with that and now the last few weeks we've seen her try to get involved in what the main issue of the campaign is.


SNOW: Now in last night's close race in Ohio, where Romney scored a key victory, he did get help from women who favored him over Rick Santorum, but observers say he has his work cut out for him in courting women since the flap over birth control issue has only energized women on the Democratic side -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting, thank you. The inside story on what happened between Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts and all the details on today's really emotional news conference.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans, and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team.



BLITZER: In a very emotional news conference today, the Indianapolis Colts and star quarterback Peyton Manning announced they're parting ways. Manning appeared with Colts owner Jim Irsay (ph) and both were definitely on the verge of tears at various times. Brian Todd is following this story for us.

Brian it's become an all too familiar story, the superstar athlete having to move on to another team at the very end of his career. Obviously the NFL is a business, but there seemed to be some real feelings here. Tell us what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very strong emotions today, Wolf, because Peyton Manning's fortunes and those of the Colts were so closely bound. He forged a Hall of Fame career there, but he also almost single-handedly turned that franchise around. In the process Peyton Manning became an icon well beyond the city limits of Indianapolis.


TODD (voice-over): He's the only guy to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award four times. He lifted a laughingstock team out of the cellar, kept them relevant for more than a decade. But it's Peyton Manning's transcendence of football that makes him a global brand. He's an advertiser's dream.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) in the neighborhood.


TODD: And he was actually funny when he hosted "Saturday Night Live".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I throw, you catch. It's not that hard.

TODD: It all combines to make his dramatic release from the Indianapolis Colts more than a sports story.

PEYTON MANNING, LEAVING INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: I do love it here. I love the fans, and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team. I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media, and especially the fans.

JON WERTHEIM, SENIOR WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Sort of playing the normal middle America straight middle of the road guy who just happens to be a great football player has really served him well and really resonates with the public.

TODD: Manning's departure drew an immediate raw outpouring in Indianapolis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very depressed. I wanted Peyton to finish out his career with us. We love him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sad day I think to see Peyton leave, because he's meant so much to the city and so much to the Colts.

TODD: Manning says he hasn't thought about where he'll play next, but everyone else has.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Peyton Manning coming here, A, and B, do you want him to come here?

TODD: At ESPN 980 talk radio in the D.C. area Peyton saturation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I want a four-time APMVP (ph)? Yes, (INAUDIBLE) I want him and everybody should want him.

TODD (on camera): The Washington Redskins are one of the teams rumored to be in the Manning sweepstakes, along with the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and a couple of others, but it's also Manning's serious neck injury and multiple surgeries which add to the media blitz and the intrigue.

(voice-over): It's not known if Manning is completely healthy and there's a clear risk of a debilitating injury, another risk, legacy damage. From Brett Favre to Troy Aikman to Willie Mays (ph), the sports landscape is littered with heroes who over extended their physical abilities. Why?

WERTHEIM: I mean they have this exceptional, exceptional skill. It's very hard to tell them not to sort of lick the bottom of the glass and not to play for as long as they possibly can.


TODD: With all the national buzz, all the emotion over Peyton Manning's moved this is really a cold, calculated business transaction for both sides. The Colts would have had to pay Manning a $28 million bonus he was due tomorrow if he stayed on the Colts' roster. Given questions about his health, it was too risky for them to make that kind of a one-time investment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And playing into all of the business of this is the Colts' draft pick this year, isn't it, Brian?

TODD: That's right. They own the first pick in the NFL draft. They will almost certainly use that on another once in a generation quarterback Andrew Luck. If they didn't have that pick, maybe if they were sitting at number 10 or 11, Peyton Manning might still be a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

BLITZER: Having said all that, I hate it when these great, great players have to end their careers with the teams like this.

TODD: Yes, me too.

BLITZER: It's just not a very nice thing to see. All right, thanks very much, Brian.

The space shuttle "Endeavour" is headed for a museum in Los Angeles, but first we get a rare look inside and then what do you get when you cross a business woman with a cupcake craving right in the middle of the night? Jeanne Moos will give us the answer.


BLITZER: The final space shuttle mission was completed last summer, but there is still work being done on the shuttles. CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now. John, you've been checking on the shuttle "Endeavour," which will soon be on display in a museum in Los Angeles and you got a rare look inside the shuttle. Tell us all about it.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we sure did. You know "Endeavour" flew 25 flights, 122 million miles, and now NASA is getting "Endeavour" ready for life after space, and we got an up-close look.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Encased in steel scaffold and you can't see much of the shuttle "Endeavour" from the outside, a bit of the nose, of course the underbelly with all those thousands of heat- shielding tiles. The engines are gone, but you know what they say, it's what's on the inside that counts. And that's where we went for a rare look.

(on camera): It's bigger than a bread box, but not much.


ZARRELLA: On launch days Tracy Thompson was the closeout crew lead. He got 100 shuttle crews in and ready to fly. TRACY THOMPSON, CLOSEOUT CREW LEAD: This is their living quarters. You know we're in the mid deck now, flight deck is above us, so the mid deck is where they eat, sleep, potty, you know do their normal --

ZARRELLA: And you could have five, six, seven people down here all at once.

THOMPSON: Definitely and there's not as much equipment in here now as there would be on launch day, so I mean there would be lockers out to here about 18 inches.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): To sleep the astronauts would literally hang in sleeping bags against a wall like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Now if you think this is a tight squeeze --

(on camera): This is the air lock that leads to the cargo bay -- cargo bay right there. Imagine the astronauts in their full space suits, suited up and ready to exit right out here into the cargo bay.

(voice-over): It's absolutely massive and it's all controlled from up here, the flight deck.

(on camera): I'm sitting over here in the commander's seat and on of course the final flight. This is where Mark Kelly sat on liftoff and when he brought her in for that final landing.

(voice-over): There's still months of work before "Endeavour" is ready to be shipped to its permanent museum, the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The thing that we've been trying to focus on is how fortunate we are to continue to work with these vehicles until the very end. There are a lot of our co-workers and friends that didn't get that opportunity. There's a small group of us that have been very fortunate to be a part of this and we're shuttle huggers. We're holding on to the very end.

ZARRELLA: The end should come by the fall. All three vehicles, "Endeavour", "Atlantis" and "Discovery", will be gone by then.


ZARRELLA: You know, what's interesting is that that mid deck area is really not much bigger than some people's walk-in closets. And Wolf, "Discovery" is going to be the very first vehicle to leave here, April 17th on the back of a 747, it's going to take off from the shuttle landing strip, fly up the East Coast of the United States. And you know where it's going to land, at Dulles at 10:30 in the morning so that it will be on display -- the first one on permanent display at the Smithsonian. I understand it's going to be one fabulous fly around up there in Washington. You're going to be able to see it up close pretty much like I did today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it, Washington Dulles Airport in northern Virginia. We'll be there. John thanks very, very much, brings back a lot of memories --

ZARRELLA: For sure.

BLITZER: -- especially for you but even for me, thank you. Brings back a lot of memories for Jack Cafferty as well, he's standing right by now to join us -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: That's just -- that's fascinating. What great stuff. The question this hour is why can't Mitt Romney seal the deal? He did OK yesterday. But he could have done a lot better. Ken in Seattle writes "In large part because he represents the upper most portion of the top one percent and seems incapable of understanding or empathizing with the other 99 percent. Assuming of course he actually cares about the 99 percent and there's little indication of that. In addition he's the least genuine candidate for president that we've seen in decades. He doesn't seem to stand for anything other than wanting to hang out in the Oval Office."

Pete writes "Mitt Romney is the Republican version of Al Gore, only less intelligent, less charismatic, less credible and far less honest. Enough voters are gullible enough to put him in the race but not nearly enough to put him in the White House."

Peg in New York writes "Conservatives are blocking his way. They seriously need to step aside". Susan in Ohio "It's all about three words, religion, religion, religion, his." "Romney's problems, writes T., with Republicans is he's not draconian. He knows what's best for the country. It takes compromise. All the rest of the candidates favor the nuclear option."

Liz on Facebook writes "Because of his elitist attitude. He has no concern for anyone who's not a millionaire. You can't pretend to like the average citizen. People can see right through him." And Linda in Kentucky writes "Haven't you ever had a multiple choice question in front of you where none of the answers made any sense, so you finally just close your eyes and pick one. I think that's what the Republicans are faced with this election."

If you want to read more on the subject find it on my blog CNN.COM/CAFFERTYFILE or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Love that shuttle stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: Me too, all right, Jack, thanks very much.

It looks like an ATM but instead of money this machine is dispensing something that's a lot sweeter. Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots". In South Africa, demonstrators march against the proposed tolls on major roads around Johannesburg. In Afghanistan, members of the Afghan Women's Olympic Basketball Team scrimmage against international security assistance forces and U.S. Embassy representatives. In Belarus, a police officer presents a flower to a woman in honor of International Women's Day. And in India, check it out. People pose in vehicles shaped like a high heel, lipstick and makeup compact -- "Hot Shots", pictures coming in from around the world.

A cupcake craving in the middle of the night used to mean you had to wait until the next day. But guess what, not anymore. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may look like an ATM, but when's the last time you saw someone this tickled at a cash machine? Who needs cash when all you need is a credit card at the cupcake ATM? Each one comes in a box.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so excited. It smells good just standing here.

MOOS: That's because it's located at Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery (ph) in Beverly Hills. Sprinkles is so famous for its mouth-watering cupcakes that they were paired with champagne in the series "Entourage."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) and Sprinkles cupcakes your favorite.

MOOS: And now you can get them out of a machine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is awesome, 24 hours you can have a cupcake.

MOOS: Just choose your favorite say red velvet or dark chocolate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are actually stocking it continuously throughout the day with fresh cupcakes day and night.

MOOS: The owner of Sprinkles, Candice Nelson (ph), happens to be a judge on the Food Network show "Cupcake Wars". She dreamed up the idea of a cupcake ATM after having late-night cupcake cravings while pregnant. It's definitely a novelty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm videotaping you with my camera.

MOOS: They hope to eventually open cupcake ATMs at all 10 Sprinkles (ph) nation-wide in places like New York and Washington.

(on camera): Now, it's one thing for say a coke to plop out of a vending machine, but a cupcake. It needs tender loving care.

(voice-over): The screen gives you a view as your cupcake is retrieved by a robot arm with a suction thingy.


MOOS: The excitement was almost too much for this first timer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, is this real?

MOOS: She was less excited about paying four bucks.


MOOS: But look how the hungry hordes line up to buy them.


MOOS: They're 50 cents cheaper inside, though you probably have to wait. And what if the store isn't open?

(on camera): You'd be surprised at some of the weird things that have come out of vending machines.

(voice-over): From lady's nylons back in the 50's to meats, steaks and chops, and even live bait? But night crawlers can't compare to Sprinkles. You can even get dog-friendly versions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want your own cupcake?

MOOS: So next time you're at a cash machine with your hand out waiting for those crisp 20's, imagine a nice soft cupcake that you could withdraw and deposit in your mouth.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Very, very tasty and delicious. That's it for me. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.