It started off tearfully for Peyton Manning on Monday as he retired from the NFL after 18 seasons at a press conference in Englewood, Colorado. From the moment he stood behind the lectern, Manning's voice was cracking. But in typical fashion, he also began with technicalities of the game. Manning — known for his zealous dedication to football — recounted the first pass he threw, a short dump-off to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. 

And while everyone knew what was coming, soon after, Manning made it official, saying simply: "Today I retire from professional football."


Manning, a five-time MVP and two-time champion, retires as the all-time leader in career passing touchdowns (539) and passing yards (71,940). In 2013 he set the record for touchdown passes with 55. Perhaps even more important to Manning, he walked away a winner, helping his Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50 in February. 

For years Manning — who played 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and his final four seasons with the Broncos — ranked among the top signal callers in the NFL, battling for the top spot with rival Tom Brady, who told Sports Illustrated's MMQB that Manning, ahead of his retirement, "set the standard for how to play the quarterback position." Echoing those sentiments at the press conference Monday, John Elway, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager (as well as a Hall of Fame Denver quarterback himself), said simply that Manning "revolutionized the game."


Manning, 39, was emotional for much of his goodbye — perhaps most so when he told a story about his daughter asking if the Super Bowl was his last game, while joking that perhaps National Football League reporters had cultivated a new source. He will miss the game, Manning said during the press conference, rattling off some of his favorite parts of being an NFL player: his teammates, handshakes with Brady and talking over games with his former NFL quarterback father Archie Manning.


"I revere football. I love the game ... so you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely, I will," Manning said.  And he ended his statement at the press conference by saying, tearfully: "God bless football, God bless all of you."

And while Goodell and Brady — among many others — have heaped praise on Manning, he downplayed his own skills. "There are other players who were more talented, but there is no one who could out-prepare me. Because of that I have no regrets," he said. 


Manning was known for being a leader on the field, exact in his throws but calculating in his preparation before the ball was snapped. He was nicknamed The Sheriff for his patrolling swagger on the field. For years he dominated statistically and first won a championship in 2006 with the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998 to much fanfare. In 2015, with diminished skill and arm strength, Manning won his second title, leaning heavily on a dominant defense. His career was first put in jeopardy by back injuries before he signed on with the Broncos, but Manning returned and played well before a drop-off and increase in injuries this season.


ESPN reported that Manning, who amid injuries had been the subject of retirement rumors nearly all season, told the Broncos franchise Saturday that he would retire. Over the years Manning has crafted a public image of the everyman, appearing in ads for countless major brands, including Nationwide Insurance and Papa John's. Marketing Arm, a marketing and promotion agency that measures consumer engagement, told International Business Times ahead of the Super Bowl that Manning ranked among the likes of Oprah Winfrey in terms of trust and alongside comedian Jimmy Fallon in terms of influence. He became a celebrity to football fans and non-football-watchers alike.

But Manning's final season has been a tumultuous and uncharacteristically controversial. Previous allegations of sexual assault have resurfaced as part of a lawsuit against him at the University of Tennessee, where the quarterback played college football. Manning was accused by then-staff member Dr. Jamie Naughright of placing his genitals on her, but he has said it was part of a "mooning" incident and has denied assaulting the athletic trainer. Manning was also linked to the performance-enhancing drug HGH in a documentary by Al Jazeera, which he steadfastly denied.

Manning was questioned on the assault allegations at Tennessee during a question-and-answer session after his statement. After noting Monday was a joyous day, Manning said it was in the past. "I did not do what is being alleged, and I’m not interested in relitigating something that happened when I was 19 years old," Manning said. "I did not do what was alleged. Like Forest Gump said, 'That's all I have to say about that.'"

Manning now moves on to life after being a player in the NFL. And while the NFL is reportedly continuing an investigation into the human growth hormone report and the assault allegations linger, many have speculated NFL franchises or television studios would be eager to bring him on in some capacity. 

Seeming to hint at those future endeavors, Manning said at the press conference, "Life is not shrinking for me; it's morphing into a whole new world of possibilities."