Peyton Manning officially announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, bringing to close an 18-year career in which he rewrote the record books, won more MVPs than any other player and led two different teams to Super Bowl titles.
And in a matter befitting of the aw-shucks, self-effacing style that made him an everyman icon (and a pitchman for the ages), he made it about everyone but himself.
Speaking at a press conference at Denver Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colorado, Manning began by listing the current and future Hall of Famers he shared the field with in his first pro game – Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison and Dan Marino (who, Manning joked, made “the damndest throw I’d ever seen.”) – and spent no small amount of time thanking the teammates, coaches, executives, opponents and fans that shaped his career.
“I’m going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmos in Indianapolis after a win, my battles with players named Lynch, Lewis, Thomas, Bruschi and Reed…I’ll miss figuring out blitzes with Jeff Saturday, Demaryius Thomas thanking me for coming to Denver after every touchdown I threw to him. I’ll miss picking out the game balls with my equipment guys,” Manning said. “I’ll miss recapping the game with my dad and checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli as we were both on our team buses. I’ll miss that handshake with Tom Brady and the plane rides after a big win, with 53 teammates standing in the aisles celebrating during the whole flight.
“I’ll even miss the Patriots fans in Foxboro,” he joked, “and they should miss me – because they sure did get a lot of wins off of me.”
At several times during his announcement, Manning fought back tears, and spoke of honoring the legacy of his father, Archie Manning, both as a pro and a man. He also made several references to the sport of football itself, which was more than a game to him.
“I revere football. I love the game, so you don’t have to wonder if I will miss it – absolutely I will,” he said. “I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet. Life is not shrinking for me; it’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.”
Before Manning addressed the media, his last coach, Gary Kubiak, shared a story of his quarterback persevering through injuries during his final season. Not wanting to be a distraction to his team, Manning had agreed to rehab his injured foot in closed workouts – though he managed to send Kubiak a not-so-subtle message while those workouts were being filmed.
“He and I talked and I could tell through his voice he was ready to come back,” Kubiak said. “On Thursday…we had our work as a team and he had his workout [and] as I’m watching the film, he sent me a signal – ‘Hey we’re number one,’ you can take it that way. I took it as ‘I’m ready to play, coach.’ I texted him and said, ‘Hey the workout looked great today. And oh, by the way I got the signal.'”
And though the public rarely got to see that side of Manning, he made sure to flash a few examples of his wry wit during Monday’s announcement – like when he made light of one infamous NFL record he still owns.
“I set the NFL rookie record for interceptions; a record that I still hold today,” he joked. “Every year I pull for a rookie quarterback to break that record – I still kid Eli he would have broken it if he had started all 16 games.”
Soon after, Manning walked off the stage, and into NFL history. But not before getting in one last “Omaha.” As if he would have retired any other way.