Choking back tears as he reminisced about his 18-year NFL career and the relationships he formed during his days with the Colts and Broncos, Peyton Manning bid farewell to the NFL on Monday during an emotion-packed news conference at the Broncos’ training facility outside Denver.
“I revere football. I love the game,” Manning said in prepared remarks before a question-and-answer session with reporters. “You don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely, I will.”
Manning said that his relentless preparation for the game, which involved hours of watching game tapes, taking meticulous notes and exhausting practice habits all were “about one thing: reverence for the game. When I look back on this game, I gave everything … Because of that, I have no regrets.”
Manning, who turns 40 on March 24, told the Broncos over the weekend that he had decided to retire just a month after helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. It was Manning’s second Super Bowl win, as he became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl for two teams.
“I fought a good fight,” Manning said. “I finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you, and God bless football.”
Manning said he looked forward to the next chapter in his life, although he didn’t specify what he might do. He will have opportunities in broadcasting, and some NFL teams will likely consider him for a front-office position. He has already been mentioned as a potential executive for the Titans and Browns.
“Life is not shrinking for me,” he said. “It’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.”
Broncos general manager John Elway thanked Manning for his four years in Denver, and Elway, who also walked away from the game after winning a Super Bowl title, said of Manning: “There’s not a guy in the NFL that can walk away and say I have done everything that can possibly be done at the quarterback position. Peyton Manning can say that.”
Elway lauded Manning for his exceptional work ethic and leadership, as well as his phenomenal on-field performance, which included a single-season record 55 touchdown passes in 2013, his second season with the Broncos.
“He made my job easy,” Elway said. “I knew that if he was on our team, we would be able to win a world’s championship. It was a treat for an ex-quarterback to be able to watch Peyton work, prepare and play. In the old days, we’d get the snap, we’d read the coverage on the way back [in the pocket]. Peyton revolutionized the game. He said, ‘We’re going to find out what you’re doing [before the snap], and we’re going to pick you apart. I said, ‘Dang, why didn’t we think of that?’ ”
Coach Gary Kubiak, who won the Super Bowl in his first season with the Broncos, commended Manning for his diligent efforts through an injury-plagued 2015 season. Manning was taken out of the lineup after nine games because of a foot injury, but eventually rehabbed to the point where he could return to the lineup.
Not long afterward, Manning replaced Brock Osweiler in the lineup during the Broncos’ final regular season game against the Chargers. Manning started and won all three playoff games, culminating with a 24-10 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
“I know it was tough, and you were special along the way,” Kubiak said. “It was only nine months [of working together] for me, but I’ll remember it for a lifetime.”
Manning said he wanted to step away from the game after the Super Bowl so he could get an accurate read on whether he wanted to retire.
“I wanted to take coach [Tony] Dungy’s advice and take time to enjoy the Super Bowl win,” Manning said. “I played 18 years, but this was only the second off-season I could start in a good mood after winning a world championship. I know how hard it is to get there. I went on a family vacation. I went hunting with [former Colts center] Jeff Saturday. Just had some great time to reflect on this past season.”
During his time away, controversy swirled about an incident in 1996 at the University of Tennessee that resulted in an out-of-court settlement with former trainer Jamie Naughright. Asked about the incident on Monday, Manning said: “I did not do what has been alleged, and I am not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.”
As for the timing of his retirement, Manning said he felt it was the proper moment to leave the NFL.
“It was just the right time,” he said. “Maybe I don’t throw as good as I used to or run as good as I used to, but I’ve got good timing.”
Will he retire as a Colt or a Bronco?
“I’m retiring as a football player from the University of Tennessee that played for the Colts and the Broncos and was very lucky to have played for all of them.”