ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (March 7, 2016) – An emotional Peyton Manning stepped in front of the microphone and reflected on a record-breaking career Monday.
Choking back tears, he recalled upbringing in New Orleans and his time at the University of Tennessee, his prodigious career with the Indianapolis Colts, and the “tough” season that led to his second championship with the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Most of all, he spoke about how much he revered and loved the game of football and how he would miss the little things.
“I’m going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo in Indianapolis after a win,” he said, ticking off a long list of defenders he’ll miss playing against ranging from Ray Lewis to London Fletcher and Tedy Bruschi. He spoke of coaches including Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher and Romeo Crennel and others.
“I’ll miss figuring out blitzes with Jeff Saturday, Reggie (Wayne) sitting on top of the bench next to me and perfecting a fake handoff with Edgerrin James,” he said.
“(I’ll miss) talking football with the broadcast crews before the game and afterward, I’ll miss recapping the games with my dad and checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli when we’re both on our team buses.”
Manning recounted his first NFL game with the Colts, which included his first completed pass to Marshall Faulk and first touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison. He faced Dan Marino that day, his favorite quarterback (second only to his dad, Archie).
“Somebody hit me really hard,” he said. “When I got up, I told myself, ‘I know I can play in this league.’”
He recalled a less than welcoming reception when the Indianapolis Colts returned to Baltimore for the first time to play the Ravens. He met Johnny Unitas that day, who told him to “stay with it.” Manning said he indeed stuck with it and hoped Johnny U was wearing his signature black high tops and smiling down on him from up above.
After thanking people in New Orleans, La., and Knoxville, Tenn., Manning talked about Indianapolis, the city where he spent 14 of his 18 NFL seasons.
“Thank you to the Indianapolis Colts organization and all the fans across the country,” Manning said. “You can’t fathom how much I enjoyed my 14 years there or the warmth that my family feels for you. I would be wrong not to mention Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, some great coaches, support staff and a host of wonderful Colts teammates.
“When I was drafted by the Colts, Indianapolis was a basketball and car racing town. But it didn’t take long for the Colts to convert the city and the state of Indiana into football evangelists,” Manning said.
“We ended my rookie season at 3-13 and in the process I set the NFL rookie record for interceptions, a record I still hold today. Every year I pull for a rookie quarterback to break that record.”
Manning said the team’s struggles his rookie year were “agonizing.” In one anecdote, he remembered how his grandfather asked him why John Madden and Pat Sumerall, who usually announced the game of the week, didn’t call Peyton’s games.
“We’re only 2-8 right now. We’re playing the 3-7 Bengals,” he told him. “Madden and Sumerall don’t broadcast those kinds of games. Fast forward to my second year, and we’d gotten things going a little bit. We were playing the Dallas Cowboys, including Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders. I called PawPaw, ‘Guess what? Madden and Sumerall are broadcasting the game.'”
Fighting tears, Manning said his grandfather was elated and very proud. The team went on to win that week.
“We let the world know the Colts had arrived,” he said.
The team would enjoy and a streak of excellence that would culminate in a win for Super Bowl XLI. Manning didn’t talk much about the tough departure from Indianapolis after several surgeries and a neck injury, but he did say he appreciated how the Denver Broncos gave him another chance.
“Grateful is the word that comes to mind when thinking of the Denver Broncos,” Manning said, thanking John Elway, coaches John Fox and Gary Kubiak, the Broncos organization and fans.
His family also played a key role in his development as a person and professional.
“There is no way to measure or properly express what a family like mine can mean,” he said. “You are the best. Ashley, your support is as potent a motivator as any man can have. Ashley’s and my kids Marshall and Mosley have only been around for a couple of years, but they have changed my life forever.”
Manning spoke about a conversation he had with his daughter before the Super Bowl.
“‘I sure want you to win that trophy,’” he said, quoting his daughter. “‘Is this the last game ever?’ And that’s when I shook my head in amazement. I was thinking (NFL reporters Chris Mortensen) Mort and Adam Schefter had gotten to my daughter to cultivate a new source.”
Of his 18 year career, which included two Super Bowl championships and NFL records for passing yards and passing touchdowns, Manning said he had nothing left to accomplish. His moment in the NFL spotlight was over.
“There were other players who were more talented than me, but there was no one who could out-prepare me. And because of that, I have no regrets," he said.
“There’s a scripture reading, 2 Timothy, 4:7: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.’ Well, I fought a good fight, I finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you. And God bless football.”
Following the press conference, Manning answered questions from reporters. USA TODAY reporter Lindsay Jones asked Manning about the allegations a trainer at the University of Tennessee made 20 years ago. Manning was accused of exposing himself to trainer Jamie Naughright during a training session in 1996.
Manning told Jones, “First of all, this a joyous day, nothing can overtake this day. I think it is sad that some people don't understand the truth and facts. I did not do what has been alleged. And I'm not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old."
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