Peyton Manning officially announced his retirement from the NFL during an emotional press conference Monday at the Denver Broncos’ team headquarters
Words were often hard to come by for the former Tennessee quarterback, who will retire after winning Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos. Manning was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in 1998 and over 18 seasons he won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, overcame a serious neck injury to win a second Super Bowl and set several NFL records. It’s a resume worthy of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Manning, 39, dealt with several injuries over his final seasons, although he didn’t say health was the main factor in his decision to walk away from the game.
“Maybe I don’t throw as good or run as good,” Manning said, “but I’ve always had good timing.”
Manning cited each stop along the way during his football journey, from his hometown of New Orleans, La., to the University of Tennessee, to playing for the Colts and Broncos. Manning made sure to point out that it was almost exactly 19 years to the day — March 5, 1997 — since he announced his decision to return to Tennessee for his senior season.
“I cherished my time in Knoxville, especially my senior year,” Manning said. “I want Vol fans everywhere to know the unique role you’ve played in my life.”
When he got to the NFL, Manning said losing during those early years with Indianapolis was agonizing, and that he still remembers when the Colts became relevant. It occurred in 1999 when Indianapolis was facing the fading Dallas Cowboys, who had won three Super Bowls in four seasons earlier in the decade. The Colts won and Manning started to believe.
“We let the world know the Colts had arrived,” Manning said.
Manning’s 13 seasons with Indianapolis came to an end because of a neck injury that put his career in jeopardy. Manning missed the entire 2011 season, was cut by the Colts and was signed by John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
Elway, the Broncos’ vice president and general manager, said he didn’t think Denver had a shot to land Manning when he became a free agent. However, the Broncos did despite a strong push by the Tennessee Titans. Elway, who won consecutive Super Bowls before retiring after the 1998 season, said he believes Manning got every ounce out of his ability during his career.
“There is not a guy in the NFL that can say, ‘I have done everything that can possibly be done in the NFL at the quarterback position,’” Elway said. “No one else can say that. Peyton Manning can say that. That’s an unbelievable accomplishment.”
In Manning’s comeback with the Broncos, there was no guarantee that he could return to his All-Pro form. There were still serious questions about his neck following spinal fusion surgery. Manning recently said he still feels tingling in his hands.
“‘Grateful’ is the word that comes to my mind when thinking of the Denver Broncos,” Manning said of his second chance.
Manning would spend four seasons with the Broncos, culminating with a win in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers. However, it was a trying season as Manning had to overcome a foot injury that limited him to 10 games and nine starts, allegations about HGH use and the re-visiting of sexual assault allegations involving a trainer at Tennessee in 1996.
Manning has denied ever using performance enhancing drugs, including HGH. During Monday’s press conference, Manning was asked about the sexual assault allegations, part of an ongoing Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee.
“It is sad that some people don’t understand the truth and the facts,” 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 years old … Like Forrest Gump said, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’”
Manning said he learned more about being a good teammate last season than ever before. He said it was much easier to be a leader when he was on the field as the star quarterback. But for much of last season, Manning was secluded from the team as he worked his way back to health..
The theme of Manning’s press conference was abundantly clear. He wasn’t just retiring from a job. He was walking away from an endeavor he truly cherished.
“I revere football,” Manning said. “I love the game. So you don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely, absolutely, I will.”
Manning offered no insight as to what he might pursue next. Television networks have expressed interest and some have speculated that Manning could follow Elway into an NFL team’s front office.
“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Manning said. “I haven’t made any decisions.”
Except one – that his days of playing football are over.