In a tearful press conference Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay announced the "conclusion" of Peyton Manning's playing career with the team.
Manning and Irsay entered the room together to speak to reporters, and both of them were near tears at various points during the news conference.
"As we're here to announce the conclusion of Peyton's playing career with the Colts, we're here very much as well to honor all the incredible memories and incredible things he's done for the franchise, for the city, for the state," said Irsay.
"It's a difficult day here of shared pain between Peyton, myself, the fans...everyone. I think in that vein as well, the 18 jersey will never be worn again by a Colt on the field. This process has been a long, difficult process. I know Peyton and I have had numerous conversations over the month and we always kept trying to come back," Irsay said.
The emotion of the moment caught up with Peyton Manning, who is typically meticulous in his preparation - whether it's for a game or a news conference. He was most emotional when talking about all the relationships he has built up in Indianapolis over the years.
Manning gave a shout-out to his fans.
"Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback," he said.
He also said that in the NFL, "Nothing lasts forever. Times change. Circumstances change. Jim, I'll be forever grateful."
"I'll always be a Colt. That'll never change," he added.
Neither Irsay nor Manning defined the circumstances that led to the amicable, bittersweet split. Irsay did say that the Colts are in a rebuilding mode. That may be the key factor in the decision. (See more thoughts from the Eyewitness Sports team.)
Peyton Manning's complete statement
"I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts. For 14 wonderful years, the only professional football I've known has been Colts football. Our team has won a lot of games here, I've played with so many great teammates here and I've been part of a great organization here - an organization and an owner who I respect and continue to respect," Manning said.
"I've been a Colt for almost all of my adult life but I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL. Jim and I have spoken extensively about where we are today and our conversations have led both of us to recognize that our circumstances make it best for us to take this next step. This has not been easy for Jim and it certainly has not been easy for me," he said.
"Jim, along with Bill Polian, drafted me 14 years ago. Jim and I have always been close. We've made a lot of great memories together. He's always been good to me, and Jim, I will be forever grateful."
"This town and this team mean so much to me. It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans. I'll always enjoy having played for such a great team," Manning said as he fought back tears. "I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media and especially the fans."
"I haven't thought yet about where I'll play, but I have thought a lot about where I've been. I've truly been blessed. I've been blessed to play here. I've been blessed to be in the NFL. And as I go, I go with just a few words left to say...a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback. Thank you."
Refresh this story to see the latest, including more comments from Irsay and Manning.
The decision ends Peyton Manning's 14-year run in Indianapolis that included one Super Bowl title and four MVP awards.
The 35-year-old Manning will become a free agent, and there is expected be interest from a half-dozen or so NFL clubs, provided he's healthy. Manning is coming off a series of operations to his neck and missed all of last season.
Indianapolis needed to cut him this week to avoid paying him a $28 million bonus. The Colts are widely expected to begin moving on by taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.
Manning turns 36 later this month, and missed the entire 2011 season after a third neck surgery. Before that, he'd never missed a game in his 13 NFL seasons.
Manning, a four-time NFL MVP, was drafted by the Colts in 1998, leading the team to two Super Bowls, including the Super Bowl XLI title in 2007.
"Peyton still thinks he can play at a high level and he wants get compensated for it and the Colts believe they have a number one draft pick that's going to be quarterback of some sorts and that with a new coach and everything, that it's time for them to move forward with the future," said Colts linebacker Gary Brackett. "Obviously, Peyton has been a consummate pro. Mr. Irsay has done a great job leading our organization, so, thing is, amicable decision, both parties are moving on."
Word of the impending breakup - though not unexpected - still caught one of Manning's closest friends, center Jeff Saturday, off guard.
"I never thought it was a foregone conclusion," Saturday said. "I was always hopeful they'd get something worked out, and that he would be back in a horseshoe, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen."
That's what Manning wanted, too.
He had said in the past that his goal was to play his entire career in a Colts uniform, but a damaged nerve that forced him to have neck surgery kept him out of action for all of 2011.
"I can't tell you what an honor it is to go start-to-finish with the same organization here in Indianapolis. That is something I have always wanted to do as a rookie coming out," Manning said in July, after signing a five-year, $90 million contract. "Of course, you never know if that is possible, but after yesterday it is official that I will be an Indianapolis Colt for my entire career. I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts, which means a great deal to me."
But things changed since last summer. Now it appears as though the Super Bowl champion won't be wearing No. 18 for Indy anymore.
With the bonus payment due Thursday, the neck problems, and the fact that the Colts own the No. 1 pick in April's draft, the Colts seem to have deemed it too risky - and too pricey - to keep the longtime franchise quarterback, who will turn 36 later this month.
The question now, if he indeed goes, is where Manning might land if he is no longer a Colt.
Arizona, Miami, Tennessee and the New York Jets all have been rumored as possible spots, and Manning's former longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore did work with the Jets as a consultant last season.
It's still possible, however unlikely, that Manning could return to Indy for a lower price if he can prove he's healthy.
"This isn't an ankle, it isn't a shoulder. Often times the NFL is criticized for putting someone out there at risk, and I'm not going to doing that," Irsay said in January. "I think he and I just need to see where his health is because this isn't about money or anything else. It's about his life and his long-term health."
But based on some back-and-forth comments made by Manning and Irsay of late, indications were that the two were squabbling.
With the Colts in full rebuilding mode, Irsay was expected by many to play for the future by allowing Manning to try to chase a second Super Bowl ring somewhere else.
Manning's impending departure marks the end of a remarkably successful era that included the 2006 league title.
He started every meaningful game for 13 seasons in Indy, 227 straight including the playoffs, and took the Colts from perennial also-ran to one of the NFL's model franchises.
In the two decades pre-dating his arrival, the Colts won 116 games, one division title and made the playoffs three times. With Manning taking snaps, the Colts have won 150 games, eight division titles, two AFC championships and the franchise's first Super Bowl since moving from Baltimore in 1984.
Indy broke the league record for most regular-season wins in a decade (115), tied Dallas' league record for most consecutive playoff appearances (nine) and the success changed Indy from a basketball town to an NFL town.
Manning is one of four players with more than 50,000 yards passing, one of three with more than 350 touchdown passes and one of two quarterbacks with more than 200 consecutive starts. He broke all of the franchise's major career passing records, previously held by Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas, and he may not be finished.
In 2009, Manning placed the Colts on the cusp of football history with a 14-0 start.
It's been mostly bad news ever since. The Colts pulled their starters against the New York Jets and lost the final two games that season. Indy then wound up losing to New Orleans in the Super Bowl. During the offseason, Manning had the first of his neck surgeries.
Then, after making an early playoff exit in the 2010 season, Manning underwent another neck surgery to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm.
When the nerve did not heal as quickly as expected, Manning had two vertebrae fused together in September, a surgery that forced him to miss the first game of his career. There are still questions about the strength of Manning's arm.
Still, he has insisted he plans to play football next season.
"My plan hasn't changed," Manning said during Super Bowl week. "I'm on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I'm doing that. I'm rehabbing hard.
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