Peyton Manning's legendary run with the Indianapolis Colts ended today at a press conference where both Manning and team own Jim Irsay said a tearful goodbye to their 14-year partnership.
According to ESPN, it was Jim Irsay's own decision to cut Manning, 35, who would be owed a $28 million bonus if he was not released. It was part of an overall move to clean house, which included releasing coach Jim Caldwell, but was also influenced by Manning's neck surgery last season, his third in 19 months.
Jim Irsay's decision to release Peyton Manning from his contract makes him an unrestricted free agent going into next year, able to pick his next team and name his price.
But that didn't make the decision any more difficult for Irsay or for Manning, who may be replaced next season by Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
At the Indianapolis Colts press conference today to announce the official cut, Irsay had to stop speaking to compose himself several times, especially when discussing how he and Manning came up in the NFL together.
The good times we've shared together and the laughs we've shared together--growing up together in the organization, he said before briefly choking up.
When a 37-year-old owner met a 22-year-old player coming out of Tennessee, the dreams we had and experienced are beyond my imagination. Having Peyton as a friend and as a player -- it's been an incredible blessing.
The No. 18 jersey, he finished, will never be worn [by a Colts player] again.
Manning was similarly emotional when he approached the podium. He is being considered by teams like the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, and he's certainly not the first great player to switch teams before retiring.
Nonetheless, as he noted in his own statement to reporters and Colts fans, his entire NFL career to this point -- all 14 years -- has been about being quarterback for the Colts. Going to a new team, and having to leave this one, will be an unbelievably painful, if necessary, transition.
For 14 wonderful years, the only professional football that I knew was Colts football, he said, holding back tears. Our team 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.
I've been a Colt for almost of my adult life. But I guess in life and in sports we all know that nothing lasts forever, he said, crying.
It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis... I do love it here I love the fans, he continued, struggling to continue. I leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts, and gratitude.
I haven't thought yet about where I'll play, he finished, thanking Colts fans from the bottom of my heart for letting him be their quarterback. But I have thought a lot about where I've been.
Watch Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay's incredibly moving press conference speeches below.