ENGLEWOOD, COLORADO – His voice cracking with emotion, Peyton Manning said good bye to the game he loved at a news conference packed with friends, family and laughter.
He threw in some Scripture, some fond memories and even a dig at Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, whom he thanked for taking a break “from your celebrity tour to be here today.”
He ended it with his signature “Omaha!” and then posed for pictures with more than a dozen of his former teammates with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, each of whom he helped win a Super Bowl.
Manning, who turns 40 this month, said the timing was simply right to call an end to his 18-year NFL career.
“I thought about it a lot, prayed about it a lot . . . it was just the right time,” Manning said. “I don’t throw as good as I used to, don’t run as good as I used to, but I have always have had good timing.”
He came to Denver on March 20, 2012, for the chance to win another title in the twilight of his career and GM John Elway had the blueprints.
Four years later, he hobbles away a champion just like his boss did 17 years ago.
Elway thanked Manning for coming to Colorado for the second chapter of his brilliant career, saying he made his own job easier, noting that with Manning living here, free agents were basically asking Elway “where do I sign?”
Manning went 50-15 in Denver, leading the Broncos to four AFC West titles, two Super Bowl trips, one championship and in 2013 guided the highest-scoring offense in league history — all after retraining himself to throw after a series of neck fusion surgeries forced him to miss all of the 2011 season and led the Colts to release him.
Team president Joe Ellis told Manning, “If there is a list of achievements needed to attain greatness you’ve checked every box. . . . We will miss watching you play quarterback. You have been a joy.”
Elway was equally emotional when he walked away from the game after winning his second championship in 1999, and on Monday he said, “Having been through it, I know it’s a hard day for him.”
Indeed, Manning choked up several times, especially when he listed all the things he would miss about football, the flights home after a big win, his teammates.
Coach Gary Kubiak talked about how Manning missed six weeks with a foot injury and how he worked his way back to regain his starting job in time to lead Denver on its historic playoff run.
Manning said if there’s one thing he learned in his most trying season was how to be a good teammate in trying times. He said it’s easy to be a good teammate when you’re the starter and things are going well, but when you’re trying to regain your health and your starting job it’s tougher.
Manning declined to address in detail a recent rehashing of a sexual harassment claim from his days at Tennessee.
“This is a joyous day and nothing could overtake this day,” he said. “I think it is sad that some people don’t understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what has been alleged. And I am not interested in relitigating something that happened when I was 19 years old. Kind of like my dad used to say when I was in trouble, ‘I can’t say it any plainer than that.’ So, this is a joyous day. It’s a special day. And like Forrest Gump said, ‘That is all I have to say about that.’ “