|Peyton Manning |
"In my very first NFL game, I completed my first pass to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. I threw a touchdown in that same game to Marvin Harrison, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this August. The quarterback for our opponent, the Miami Dolphins, was, after my dad, my favorite player - Hall of Famer Dan Marino - who on the first third down of the game completed a 25-yard skinny post and it was the damndest throw I'd ever seen. Later, I completed a pass to tight end Marcus Pollard down the middle and somebody hit me really hard and after I got up I told myself, 'I know I can play in this league.'
"Later in that struggling season, we played in and lost to Baltimore. It was the first time that the Colts had returned to Baltimore since they had moved back in 1984. We didn't exactly get a warm reception that day. The fans were screaming at me and I kept thinking, 'Hey, I was only 8 years old then, get off of my back.' I had met him once before, but when the game was over I had the chance to shake [Hall of Fame QB] Johnny Unitas' hand. He told me, 'Peyton, you stay at it. I'm pulling for you.' Well, I have stayed at it. I've stayed at it for 18 years and I hope that old No. 19 is up there with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on. I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he's even a little proud of me.
"There is just something about 18 years. Eighteen is a good number and today I retire from pro football. I want to thank the people of New Orleans and south Louisiana. New Orleans is my hometown and of course they support their own team, the Saints, but they also support their own and that city and state have backed me from the start. Almost 19 years ago to the day, I announced my decision to forgo the draft and stay at the University of Tennessee for my senior year. It was one of the smartest decisions I've ever made. I cherished my time in Knoxville, especially my senior year. And I want Vols fans everywhere to know the unique role that you've played in my life.
"Thank you to the Indianapolis Colts organization and all the fans across this country. You can't fathom how much I enjoyed my 14 years there or the warmth that my family feels for you. I'd be wrong not to mention [Indianapolis Colts Owner] Jim Irsay, [Former Indianapolis General Manager] Bill Polian, some great coaches, support staff and a host of wonderful Colts teammates, many of whom will be lifelong friends. When I was drafted by the Colts, Indianapolis was a basketball and a car racing town but it didn't take long for the Colts to convert the city and state of Indiana into football evangelists.
"We ended my rookie season 3-13 and in the process I set the NFL rookie record for interceptions, a record that I still hold today. Every year I pull for a rookie quarterback to break that record. [Indianapolis QB] Andrew Luck, [Detroit QB] Matthew Stafford, [New York Giants QB] Eli Manning, [Carolina QB] Cam Newton - I still kid Eli that he would have broken it if he would have started all 16 games.
"In the beginning of my time in Indy, the team's struggles were agonizing. My grandfather would call me weekly to ask if his favorite announcers John Madden and Pat Summerall would be broadcasting our game. 'Paw Paw,' I'd say, 'We're only 2-8 right now. We're playing the 3-7 Bengals. Madden and Summerall don't broadcast those kinds of games.'
"Fast-forward to my second year when we had gotten things going a little bit. We were playing the Dallas Cowboys and [Hall of Fame QB] Troy Aikman, [Hall of Fame RB] Emmitt Smith, [Hall of Fame WR] Michael Irvin and [Hall of Fame CB] Deion Sanders. I called Paw Paw, 'Guess what, Madden and Summerall are broadcasting the game.' He said, 'I can't believe it.' He was elated and he was very proud and we beat the Cowboys that week and we let the world know that the Colts had arrived. Make no mistake about it, we were coming and we went on to do some phenomenal things like winning at least 12 games seven years in a row and of course winning Super Bowl XLI. And I was truly honored and proud to be a part of it.
"There's a saying that goes, treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be.
"When I visited Denver four years ago, if [Executive Vice President of Football Operations & General Manager] John Elway had sat me down and said, 'Peyton, here's what we're going to do. We're going to win over 50 games, win four straight division championships, lose only three division games in four years and none will be on the road, we'll beat the Patriots in two championship games and you're going to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year, another MVP, your offense will set single-season passing records, you'll break a couple more all-time records, and we'll go to a couple of Super Bowls.' I think I would have taken that deal. John, you did tell me that, didn't you?
"Grateful is the word that comes to my mind when thinking of the Denver Broncos. I want to thank [Owner] Pat Bowlen and his family, [President & CEO] Joe Ellis, John Elway, [Chicago Head Coach] John Fox, [Head Coach] Gary Kubiak and their staffs and all the support people in this great organization. To all of my Denver teammates, thank you for what you've done for this old quarterback. And of course my gratitude to the Broncos fans everywhere.
"Over my NFL career, I've had five head coaches who have helped me become better at my craft and have helped me become a better human being: Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, [Detroit Head Coach] Jim Caldwell, John Fox and Gary Kubiak. While I've obviously changed teams, I've had the same football representation for almost two decades. I owe [my agent] Tom Condon many thanks. He has represented me with class at every juncture and he'll always be a great friend.
"I want to thank a tremendous group of friends who have supported my football career and been at my side at games from high school to Tennessee, Indy and through that incredible Broncos' Super Bowl win last month. You know who you are and what you mean to me.
"There is no way to measure or properly express what a family like mine can mean. Mom, Dad, Cooper, Eli, extended family, you are the best. Ashley, your support is as potent a motivator as any man can have. Ashley and my kids, Marshall and Mosley, have only been around for a couple of years but they have changed my life forever. A week before the Super Bowl our daughter Mosley asked me, 'Daddy, is this the last game?'
"'Yes, Mosley, it's the last game of the season.'
"'I sure do want you to win that trophy.'
"'I do, too, Mosley. And that's what we're going to try to do.'
"Then she asked, 'Daddy, is this the last game ever?' And that's just when I shook my head in amazement because I was thinking, '[ESPN reporters Chris] Mort [Mortenson] and Adam Schefter had gotten to my 5-year-old daughter to cultivate a new source.'
"When someone thoroughly exhausts an experience they can't help but revere it. I revere football. I love the game. So you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely I will. Our children are small now, but as they grow up, we're going to teach them to enjoy the little things in life because one day they will look back and discover that those really were the big things.
"So here are the seemingly little things that when I look into my rearview mirror, have grown much bigger.
"I'm going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis after a win. My battles with players named [Former Tampa Bay and Denver S John] Lynch, [Former Baltimore LB Ray] Lewis, [Hall of Fame LB Zach] Thomas, [former New England LB Tedy] Bruschi, [former Washington LB London] Fletcher, [former Eagles and Broncos S Brian] Dawkins, [Hall of Fame LB Junior] Seau, [Former Chicago LB Brian] Urlacher, [former Pittsburgh S Troy] Polamalu, [former San Diego and New England S Rodney] Harrison, [former Oakland DB Charles] Woodson and [former Baltimore S Ed] Reed. And with coaches like [Los Angeles Head Coach Jeff] Fisher, [Buffalo Head Coach Rex] Ryan, [New England Head Coach Bill] Belichick, [Dallas Assistant Head Coach for Defense Monte] Kiffin, [Defensive Coordinator Wade] Phillips, [Carolina Head Coach Ron] Rivera, [Tennessee Defensive Coordinator Dick] LeBeau, [Houston Defensive Coordinator Romeo] Crennel, [Green Bay Defensive Coordinator Dom] Capers, [Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin] Lewis, the late [Defensive Coordinator] Jim Johnson, and so many more. I always felt like I was playing against that middle linebacker or that safety or that defensive coach.
"I'll miss figuring out blitzes with [former Indianapolis C] Jeff Saturday, [former Indianapolis WR] Reggie [Wayne] sitting on top of the bench next to me, and perfecting a fake handoff to [former Indianapolis RB] Edgerrin James. I'll miss [WR] Demaryius Thomas telling me that he loved me and thanking me for coming to Denver after every touchdown I threw to him.
"I'll miss putting in a play with [Arizona Assistant Head Coach & Offensive Consultant] Tom Moore and [Miami Head Coach] Adam Gase that ends in a touchdown on Sunday. On Fridays I'll miss picking out the game balls with my equipment guys. Talking football with the broadcast crews before the game and afterwards I'll miss recapping the game with my dad. And checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli as we're both on our team buses.
"I'll miss that handshake with [New England QB] Tom Brady and I'll miss the plane rides after a big win with 53 teammates standing in the aisles laughing and celebrating during the whole flight. I'll miss playing in front of so many great fans both at home and on the road. I'll even miss the Patriots fans in Foxborough, and they should miss me because they sure did get a lot of wins off of me.
"And this is important, football fans everywhere need to know how much they have meant to me over the years. Fans, you are at the core of what makes this game remarkable. I've received more letters from you than I can count. Fan letters that have touched me, made me think, laugh and moved me to act.
"I've learned a lot through my mistakes, stumbles and losses in football. I've also learned this game is a mighty platform that has given me a voice that can echo well beyond the game. Football has taught me not to be led by obstructions and setbacks but instead to be led by dreams. Due to some good genes, I'm smart enough to know that those lessons can enrich who I am and where I go from here.
"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.
"Pundits will speculate that my effort and drive over the past 18 years were about mastery and working to master every aspect of the NFL game. Well, don't believe them. Because every moment, every drop of sweat, every bleary-eyed night of preparation, every note I took and every frame of film I watched was about one thing, reverence for this game. When I look back on my NFL career, I'll know without a doubt that I gave everything I had to help my teams walk away with a win. There were other players who were more talented, but there was no one could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets.
"There's a scripture reading, 2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
"Well, I've fought a good fight. I've finished my football race and after 18 years, it's time. God bless all of you and God bless football."
On if he was close to wanting to return for another season:
"I really wanted to do, like I said at the game, and take Coach Dungy's advice and really take some time to enjoy that Super Bowl win. I was telling somebody, I've played 18 years but this is only the second offseason that I can start in a good mood after winning a world championship. I know how hard it is to win that world championship. I know how hard it is to get there. I know how hard it is to win the game. I really wanted to take some time to enjoy that win on family vacation, went hunting with old teammate Jeff Saturday and really just had some great time to reflect on this past season and all that Coach Kubiak mentioned we had been through and I had gone through on the field. I really took some time to do that, but I thought about it a lot, prayed about it a lot and, like I said earlier, it was just the right time. Maybe I don't throw as good or run as good as I used to, but I've always had good timing. I think that's the true case in this sense."
On how he'll cope with his competitive itch:
"It's hard to say. I've talked to John [Elway] about this over the past four years and he's given me some great insight as to kind of what some of the feelings that I'll be going through over the next couple of months and years. So I've appreciated his advice and friendship and support. I don't know. I haven't ruled anything out. I have made no decisions. I'm going to go on vacation again after this, go play a little golf pretty soon with my two brothers and really kind of enjoy this. But I really have enjoyed this past day and a half. I've had a chance to call some special people that have been a part of my football life. After calling John and Joe and Coach Kubiak, I called all five of my head coaches. I had a great conversation with Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, John Fox and of course, I talked to Coach Kubiak. And that was really special to having a chance going down memory lane a little bit. So I'm going to enjoy this and think about some of those things at another time."
On if there was a point this season he thought he might not return:
"Well, like everyone has alluded to earlier today, it was extremely gratifying to finish with a world championship. It was a special day there in San Francisco, and one that I'll always remember and cherish with a great bunch of teammates. There's no question this was a unique season and it had plenty of ups and downs. But those conversations, as open and honest conversations with Coach Kubiak, were important and helpful and they were two-way, and that was important. Like I said earlier during the Super Bowl week, I never assumed anything. I never said, 'This is going to be it or I'm never going to play again or I'm not going to get healthy.' I did just what Coach Kubiak mentioned. I had kind of a goal one week at a time. I tried to accomplish that goal and that led to some bigger things, so it was the right attitude to have during, no doubt, a unique season."
On recent off-field topics:
"First of all, this is a joyous day and nothing can overtake from this day. I think it is sad that some people don't understand the truth and the facts. 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. Kind of like my daddy used to say when I was in trouble, 'I can't say it any plainer than that.' This is a joyous day. It's a special day. Like Forest Gump said: 'That's all I have to say about that.'"
On how important it was that the Broncos called him first in free agency:
"I think it was important. Elway always had pretty good timing as well. It was the first call, he and John Fox made to me. It was a difficult day just going through that press conference in Indianapolis, which I think was four years ago today. Ole' Foxy and John called. With Fox, of course, it's a fun conversation. It's upbeat. It kind of got me in a good mood again. Then John got on and just said, 'Hey, when you're ready, we'd love for you to come out [here].' I think that probably was as important as anything that John kind of mentioned recruiting me. But it was not a, 'Hey, we have to know something tonight' or 'You're hanging us out here.' When I came out to Denver, John understood what I was feeling, that it was a gut-wrenching time. He played a long time. He of course played for the same franchise his whole career, but he understood it and so it was good to have someone to talk to. And the fact that they weren't pushing me and weren't giving me a deadline, that made a big difference. It allowed me to take some time and think about finding the right place for me. And I couldn't have made a better decision coming out to play these last four years in Denver."
On if the factors in his decision were based on health or performance:
"I think, just once again, going back to that timing. It was the right time. It was not easy. It was difficult. Like I said, I love football. I love it. Of course, [I] talked to my family about it and had a lot of good conversations with the Good Lord about it, and you know I had some friends and I got three special old Colts here tonight that have been great friends in Jeff Saturday and Brandon Stokley and Bill Polian. But they're all in the media now. When I talked to them, I kind of say, 'Who are we talking with? My old center [Saturday] or are you at ESPN that's lost all that weight and looks so good on TV?' So I kept my thoughts and feelings pretty tight. Like I said, it felt like the right time and that's kind of how all that went about."
On what he learned in his last season that was different from previous seasons:
"I've always thought it was important to be a good teammate, and of course, maybe that was always easy to say when you were the starting quarterback and healthy and winning a lot of games and playing pretty well. It probably is easy to be a good teammate during those times because a lot of things are going good. I guess what I found out about myself is that I feel like I was a good teammate throughout a very different season. I was injured. I was not playing well. It was a struggle, but I felt like I had a good attitude. I would talk to D.T. and [WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] and talk about the offense. I had good conversations with [QB] Brock [Osweiler] and would share any thoughts I had with him on the Patriots as he was playing against them for the first time and was in the meetings when I could be with [Quarterbacks Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Greg] Knapp and [Offensive Coordinator Rick] Rico [Dennison] and just try to be a good teammate. You can't help all that much when you're not playing. You can help the most when you're paying, but I tried to do the best that I could. And being around I think was important--being visible. I think guys saw me rehabbing, saw me working out. I think my teammates had my back, which that was important to me. I don't think you ever get too high up or too old not to need encouragement from your teammates. This was a special group of guys to play with. I have special friendships with all of my old Colts teammates--ones that I'll cherish--but I have some special ones here--a lot of guys that are here today. That means a lot that you guys are here. [OLB] Von [Miller]--the fact that you came in from your celebrity tour to be here today, that really means a lot. I mean you've got to get ready for Dancing with the Stars here soon. I'm thankful for all these guys--Von Miller, [OLB] DeMarcus [Ware]. I mentioned some names, but I didn't have time to mention every name. I'm thankful to have played with so many great teammates for two great organizations. People always were asking me, 'Who are you retiring today as?' I'm retiring as a football player from the University of Tennessee that played for the Colts and the Broncos. I'm very lucky to have played for all of them."
On the 'signal' he gave Kubiak in one of his rehab sessions on film:
"I can't confirm or deny that."
On why he gave a signal to Kubiak that specific day:
"Like I said, I'd be lying if I sat here and told you that was not a frustrating time. The team meets here every morning. I'm a part of those meetings, and then everyone goes on to their individual meetings and goes to practice and I go in the little quarantined sandbox at the far corner. 'Hey, don't get near any of the real players. You go over there and you can take Sunshine [practice squad WR Jordan Taylor].' It was nice of them to give me a practice squad receiver, an equipment guy and a guy on injured reserve to throw to. That really helped. I really appreciated that. It couldn't have been a better guy. Jordan Taylor is going to surprise a lot of people for the Broncos next year, in my opinion. [TE] Jeff [Heuerman] is going to get healthy. He's an awesome football player. And nobody appreciates a good equipment guy more than I do, and [Equipment Manager] Flip [Chris Valenti] and [Assistant Equipment Manager] Harry [Mike Harrington] and John Scott and Frog and T and all the guys that I've been to, there's a special bond there. But it was a frustrating time because I wasn't getting as healthy as quickly as I wanted to. I'm throwing in that indoor facility and not feeling the same. And then you are starting to make some progress, then you have a little setback, and then of course, you're not playing. I was so fortunate for so many years to have great health and to have played in so many games as to not to be playing, it was tough. I was starting to feel a little better around that time and maybe getting back to being a little more myself and my signals and my hand gestures and so I think it was the timing of that."
On what was the proudest moment of his career:
"That's hard to answer right now. It's hard to list. This game, in my opinion, is a people business. It's a relationship business. It's certainly not a play on the field or a throw. It's moments. Obviously having my family and being able to hold my kids a month ago with that Super Bowl trophy was one that you'll always remember. I mentioned a lot of those memories today of small moments that have been a huge part of my career. I mentioned some names, and there are so many other players that I have played against that I have so much respect for. All those players are all old and retired. [Charles] Woodson is the last one. He's going out with me. But the rest of them like Lynch are from the old school. And so I try to pick some of those names and coaches, there are so many more of those. Those guys, no offense, played in kind of up in age as well that I mentioned. That's kind of how that list came about. I've got great respect for them game. I'm just grateful for the relationships and the friendships that I formed in the 18 years I've played."
On the footprint he hopes to leave on the game:
"Well certainly, I'm a fan of quarterbacks and I mentioned Marino and thoughts on John Elway growing up and Aikman and, like I said, I don't want to get into the list, but I love quarterbacks. Our football [Manning] Passing Academy has been a great way for me and Eli and my dad to stay connected with the college quarterbacks that are getting ready to go play pro ball, and also trying to help some high school quarterbacks learn a little bit more about the position. I'm just grateful for that."
On how he revolutionized the quarterback position:
"I can't answer that myself. I'm grateful for John's words and some other nice things that have been said this day and a half. I'm very grateful. I studied hard the game and prepare hard. I guess I found out early as a coach told me that I could process a lot of information and make really fast decisions. He shared that with me and then he said maybe that's not totally normal, if you will. So that, I think, allowed coaches to put a lot of things on my plate and trust me. I never abused that trust. I mentioned Tom [Tom] Moore and Adam [Gase] and Rico [Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison], you know, I never abused the trust that they were putting in me to change a play and to try and prove my offensive chances of success on that play. I felt like I earned that trust and I worked hard to keep that trust, but I never took advantage of it and it was a fun way to play quarterback. It really was. But I had great coaches and players and it wouldn't have been possible without them."