Peyton Manning didn't have to stand besides Colts owner Jim Irsay on Wednesday.
This was a man who had publicly feuded with him over his future with the team and ultimately decided to cut him rather than pay a $28 million roster bonus.
But yet there he was.
He bravely stood next to the owner that was dumping him, while trying to hold back tears.
He choked up multiple times during his press conference when he talked about what it meant to be an Indianapolis Colt. He choked up even more when talking about the msotly faceless equipment managers and the rest of the behind the scenes players in the Colts franchise.
It was one of the classiest exits ever conducted by an athlete and shows why Manning is one of the most popular players in all of sports. He could have just issued a press release about leaving Indianapolis or hosted his own separate press conference where he blasted Irsay for releasing the face of the franchise.
But he didn't and we're all the better for it.
We all know that nothing lasts forever, Manning said. Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL.
I'll always be a Colt. That'll never change.
It's a sad day for all sports fans that Manning couldn't go out on his own terms; that he couldn't retire with the only professional franchise he's ever played for. But as soon as the Colts landed the No. 1 draft pick in April's NFL Draft, Manning's future was sealed. The Colts will inevitably draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Manning will be forced to take his talents somewhere else - possibly to South Beach like Lebron James famously did two summers ago.
As sports writers we learn to root for the story and not a specific team, and there won't be a story I'll be rooting harder for than Manning triumphantly guiding some team - maybe the Jets, Cardinals, Dolphins, etc. - to a Super Bowl victory.
Even Irsay, who decided to cut Manning, will be rooting for him to succeed.
I want to see him come back and play great, no question about it. Here, just like in 2001, we didn't have everything to surround him. I want him to succeed at the end of his career, he said.
No one knows whether he'll actually be able to reach the level of play that allowed him to start 208 consecutive times and win eight division titles. After four neck surgeries in 18 months, it'd incredibly impressive for Manning to be able to still toss the ball the way he used to.
But he says he's never worked harder in trying to get back to playing shape. He says that he's unwilling to retire just yet and instead is eager to get back on the field to prove his worth.
Manning shouldn't have to prove anything at this point in his career - not with those credentials. But I'd bet any amount of money that he'll prove every doubter wrong next season because that's the kind of competitor he is.
More importantly, Manning proved on Wednesday that he is every bit as good of a guy as he is a player. And whether or not he every plays another down on Sundays, he won a fan out of me for life.