For the first time ever, we all saw Peyton Manning let his guard down. The carefully constructed, meticulously crafted public image Manning often displays to media and fans broke down as he stood at the podium, reading a statement thanking the Colts, the media, and the fans after fourteen years of playing quarterback in Indianapolis. His voice cracked. Tears were visible. His "southern drawl" much more prominent than normal.
"Thank you for much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback."
The Indianapolis Colts announced today that the team will part ways with franchise quarterback Peyton Manning. Both Manning and team owner Jim Irsay held a noon press conference. Both were visibly shaken, emotional.
"We're here to announce the conclusion of Peyton's career with the Indianapolis Colts," Irsay said when the press conference began. Both he and Manning stood at the podium. Irsay spoke first with Peyton, stoic and supportive, just behind him.
"The 18 jersey will never be worn again by another player on the field for the Colts," Irsay said, retiring Peyton Manning's number right on the spot. For Manning, the presser provided a rare glimpse into a personal Peyton, one free of the "folksy charm" he tries to exude, or the "field general" mystique he is known for.
This Peyton was vulnerable.
"I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts."
"It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis."
Manning also said that while he is leaving the Colts, he is not leaving the city of Indianapolis, implying he will continue to live there. He also made it clear that while he is saying goodbye to the franchise he has been a part of most of his adult life, he is most certainly NOT retiring.
"I don't want to retire. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do."
Manning also said he is getting "closer and closer" to getting healthy.
For Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the Colts all but said the reasoning behind releasing Manning was the Colts are rebuilding, and that Manning had little to no opportunity to win another ring with Indianapolis' roster. Regardless of where he plays, Manning hit home one final point before walking off the stage and into a "New Era":
"I'll always be a Colt. Always. That will never change.
With personnel executive Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell fired, and now with the release of Manning, the Colts themselves truly enter a "New Era." The conversation will now shift to where Peyton will end up (I still say Denver) and who the Colts will draft to succeed Manning (ahem, Andrew Luck).
As the presser ended, Manning and Irsay hugged near the podium. "Good job" Manning said to the shaken Irsay, who looked as if he had been punched in the gut after all the emotions were released. The two men walked out of the room together, likely thinking of old times and "New Eras" to come.