Any football fan who watched Peyton Manning's retirement speech five years ago knew that his next big speech — the one he'd make upon being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — would be must-watch material.
On Sunday, Manning finally gave that speech and, oh, did he deliver.
Related: Read Manning's entire speech here
Over the course of nine minutes and 30 seconds — perhaps a little over the Hall of Fame's time request for speeches, but maybe it makes it once you cut out the laugh breaks — Manning pulled all the right strings with his speech: some humor, some wistfulness, some words to pull at our heartstrings and a call to action.
As we recap some of the best moments, let's begin as he did: with some laughs.
THE LAUGH LINES
Manning landed some early jokes at the expense of the Hall's request for shorter speeches, and at the expense of perhaps some of the Hall of Famers who drove the organization to such a request.
"The 2021 induction class wants to thank those previous inductees who gave longwinded acceptance speeches, forcing us to have a whopping six minutes to recap our football careers," Manning said. "I want to give a special thanks to my old rival, Ray Lewis, for being here tonight. Ray just finished giving his speech that he started in 2018.
"Next year, acceptance speeches will probably shrink to four minutes. And speaking of rivals, my good friend Tom Brady is here tonight. By the time the time Tom Brady is inducted in his first year of eligibility in the year 2035, he'll only have time to post his acceptance speech on his Instagram account."
Fans naturally replied by raining boos down upon Brady, who turned around in his chair as if to say, "What did I do?"
There would be more jokes peppered here and there throughout Manning's speech, but he knew the best way to start was by getting people laughing.
With his father, Archie, presenting him for enshrinement, you knew Peyton would dedicate a significant part of his speech to his family, and it certainly gave us some of the most memorable moments.
"In my youth in New Orleans and in Newman School, football carved out a place for my favorite quarterback, my hero, my role model, my dad — Archie Manning — to pass on something he loved to me," Manning said. "Dad, there is no one I would rather have or be more appropriate than you to welcome me to this stage. My dad enabled me to play ball with my brothers, Cooper and Eli, the two best brothers a guy could ask for. And it gave my mom plenty of reasons to both beef me up and patch me up. You talk about lucking out with the most loving mother, who could also break down a Cover-2 defense as well as any NFL quarterback."
He also later dedicated part of his speech to his wife and children.
"To my wife, Ashley, there are no right words to express how grateful I am for you," Manning said. "Thank you for your unstoppable love and support. And to our children, Marshall and Mosely, you came into the world at the exact time that I needed you most. The two of you have already given your mother and me a greater inheritance than we could ever leave you."
REVELING IN THE HISTORY
Ever since growing up around the game as the son of an NFL quarterback, Manning has fostered a deep-seated love for the sport's history. He shared just a bit of that in explaining how honored he is to join the many other greats from throughout football history in the Hall with a story about a dream he had:
"The legendary John Madden says that the Hall of Fame busts whisper to each other at night, and it's actually true," Manning said. "My son, Marshall, and I have heard it. But I also think that they run plays at night. They scrimmage. They throw a little seven-on-seven. The other night I had a dream that I was in one of those scrimmages. The other team's coaches were Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown. My coaches — Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson. That's right: a Cowboy and a Steeler working together. Only in Canton, Ohio.
"We were on the 50-yard line with only three seconds left in the game. Coach Cowher called a running play. I said, 'Coach, I'm going to have to audible.' Omaha! I called a pass play. My bust faked a handoff to Barry Sanders. I called a 20-yard break-in route to Michael Irvin right as Deacon Jones and Ray Nitzchke hit me at the same time. Irvin, as he was getting tackled by Ronnie Lott, then lateraled to Steve Largent, who was in a footrace down the sideline with Darrell Green and Lem Barney. The savvy Largent, knowing he couldn't win a footrace with Darrell Green, then lateraled back to Lance Alworth, who dove into the end zone for the game-winning score.
"Now, yesterday it was just a dream, but tonight it's reality."
REMEMBERING THOSE WE'VE LOST
In honoring the history of the game, Manning also made sure to pay tribute to the coaches who helped him become the player he was, singling out two who died within the past year.
"I always thrived on being coached, and I learned from some of the very best coaches in the business, many of whom are here tonight," Manning said. "Sadly, we have lost two special coaches to me this year: the great Howard Mudd and my good friend, Greg Knapp. May they both rest in peace."
Knapp was the Broncos' quarterbacks coach for three of Manning's four seasons in Denver, including the team's 2015 championship season, and recently died tragically after being struck by a car while he was riding his bike.
In addition to special shoutouts for his alma mater and the Indianapolis Colts, Manning made sure to express his gratitude to the Broncos for his time in Denver.
"To Pat Bowlen, the Bowlen family and the Denver Broncos organization, you took a chance on me at a crucial moment in my career, and I will never forget it," Manning said. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
And as a member of this new Hall of Fame team, Manning made sure to recognize some of the Broncos greats who came before him.
"I'm proud to be on the same team again with John Elway and to join fellow Denver Bronco alums Steve Atwater and John Lynch in this weekend's induction class," Manning said. "And there's room for more Colts and Broncos in here. I'm just saying."
Of course, Broncos fans share Manning's love with all the other homes he's made — in Louisiana, where he grew up; Tennessee, where he went to college; and Indiana, where he first made his mark on the league. All the fans from those places have a spot in his heart, too.
"If football has become my home, the people of the great states of Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado have become my extended family," Manning said. "And as everyone knows, you can never really leave family behind."
'WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY'
After all the joking and looking back, Manning turned his attention to the future to cap his speech with an impassioned plea to support the game he loves so dearly.
"As members of this honored class, we have a responsibility to make our game stronger, from the corner playground to the most-celebrated stadiums," Manning said. "During the past few years, the game of football has been challenged by an explosion of sports and entertainment options, safety concerns, erupting social-justice issues and a worldwide pandemic. Displaced fans have taken on an entirely new meaning, as our stadiums have been shut down and fans shut out. We certainly shouldn't walk away now. When we leave this stage tonight, it is no longer about us. It is about cultivating the game that has given so much to us. It's about nurturing football to live and thrive another day, another year, decade and another generation. It's about guaranteeing that kids everywhere can learn, bond, grow and have fun with every flag pulled, every tackle made, every pass thrown, every run, block, sack and touchdown scored.
"The audience here tonight is made up of diehard fans who feel football deep in your bones. Now, we may have ignited the fire, but you, you have fanned the flames. Inevitably, those flames will be whipped by the winds of change, but they don't need to smolder. The future of this game is ours to shape. We just need to take tomorrow on our shoulders as readily as we donned our pads before each game. Let this moment become a cherished memory, and then remember: A legacy is only worthwhile when there is a future to fuel.
"God bless you, and God bless football."