After 14 years of dedication with one team, one could understand why Peyton Manning was as emotional as he was as he bid farewell to the Indianapolis Colts and its fans during Wednesday's press conference of his official release.
I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude, Manning said. I haven't thought yet about where I'll play, but I have thought a lot about where I've been.
Considering his body of work-208 consecutive starts, four MVPs, eight division titles and a Super Bowl victory-he has gone far, helping the Colts evolve into one of the most consistently successful organizations since he was drafted in 1998. Even if they may have released him because he was just too expensive and old and medically risky to keep around for a few more years, even the Colts can't overlook just how much of a powerhouse quarterback made a powerhouse team a powerhouse practically all by himself.
And now, perhaps Manning will turn a mediocre team into an immediate powerhouse once he signs with one. With his release made official thanks to the press conference, he is now a free agent-probably the biggest and most highly coveted free agent in recent history. What's more is that sooner or later, Manning could be wearing an unfamiliar jersey for any one of a handful of teams who need an upgrade at the quarterback position, including the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.
I've been a Colt for almost of my adult life, he said, crying. But I guess in life and in sports we all know that nothing lasts forever.
At 35, and after four neck surgeries in less than two years, Manning's time with the Colts fits that bill. But does it necessarily mean hanging it all up, warning signs and all?
Not for Manning.
I don't want to retire, Manning said. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do.
Manning's famed number 18, though, will be retired, according to owner Jim Irsay, who was also emotional sitting next to Manning during the press conference. Despite him saying that Manning's standing with the team was too difficult to overcome, he appreciated the time he spent around the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
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 will never be worn [by a Colts player] again.