One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game retired from the NFL on Monday morning.
Peyton Manning addressed the media at Denver Broncos' headquarters with his parents, Archie and Olivia, older brother Cooper, wife Ashley and two children in attendance.
"I have fought the good fight, and I have finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time," Manning said. "God bless all of you, and God bless football."
The 39-year-old informed the Denver Broncos Saturday evening he is retiring as a player following 18 seasons of professional football and two Super Bowl victories.
“Father Time remains undefeated,'' said Hall of Fame and former Bronco tight end Shannon Sharpe. ”You might be able to take him into overtime. You can say Peyton took him into overtime. But Father Time is relentless in his pursuit and he will win.”
Sharpe awoke early Sunday morning to a text he had received overnight from Manning, who must have been up all night. Manning also texted with several teammates and talked to some of his close personal friends Saturday night.
“Peyton helped me be a better player, better person, better teammate," said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. "He told me how to be a pro on and off the field. He told me how to fight through adversity. I’m so happy for him. I told him thank for all the memories. I told him I’ve been a fan of his since I was 9 years old. I told him I love him, keep in touch. It’s so great that a player of his caliber is walking away on top.”
Manning's retirement will spark discussion as to where he ranks among the all-time greats.
"There's not a guy in the NFL that can walk away and say, 'I have done everything that can possibly be done at the quarterback position,'" Elway said at the press conference. "Peyton Manning can say that."
Statistics state no one was better. He finished with the holy trinity of career records with 539 touchdown passes, 71,940 passing yards and exactly 200 wins, counting the postseason.
"You know where I’ve got him," said retired receiver Brandon Stokley, who played with Manning in Indianapolis and Denver. “I’ve got him as the best ever. He played the toughest position. I don’t know if he transcended or what the word I’m looking for – he revolutionized the quarterback position. Every quarterback that has come after him now is judged by what he was able to do at the line of scrimmage and audiblizing and getting the offense into the best possible play. And you can see they still can’t do it like him. He raised the bar for offensive play and for quarterback play.”
"Not only that there was nobody who worked as hard as him, that was a better teammate," Stokley added. "I think he made everybody around him so much better than what they really were. I’m probably the best example of that.
"Not only on the football field but in the building. Watching film, knowing what to look for, knowing what to study for. You had to go in there and give it everything you’ve got every day when he’s in that building because he is. When you’re not doing it you feel like you’re cheating him and cheating the team.''
It was Manning's stamp on Denver that set him above every quarterback who ever played, Sharpe said. Remember, Manning missed the entire 2011 season -- his final year with the Indianapolis Colts -- because of a neck injury that led to four surgeries.
Despite the fear Manning was old at 36 and damaged goods from the neck injury, the Broncos were one of 10 teams willing to take a chance on him once the quarterback was released by the Colts in March 2012. The Broncos were the team that won the Manning sweepstakes.
“You’re not supposed to have four neck surgeries in 18 months, go to another team after you’re 35 years old, an win an MVP, win four division titles, have a 45-12 record, got to two Super Bowls," Sharpe said. "You’re not supposed to do that. I want to see somebody put up the resume he had from 36 and on.
“I think it’s great, especially the way this year ended for him," Stokley said. "I think is fitting. For this year to work out the way it did, to have adversity throughout the year and to be able to overcome it and finish it the way he did, you can’t write a better script. To go out like this, it’s a storybook ending. It’s one if you would have told me four months ago after that Kansas City game and a couple weeks after that this is the way it would have ended, there was no way that would have been a possibility.”
Manning played his first 13 seasons with the Colts, sat out 2011 to recover from his neck operations, and then was released to free agency. After a two-week recruiting process, Manning wound up signing a five-year, $96 million contract with the Broncos.
He fulfilled four seasons of that deal with Denver and earned every penny of the $77 million he received. In his four seasons with the Broncos, Manning posted records of 13-3, 13-3, 12-4 and 7-2 for a combined 45-12.
The Broncos won the AFC West Division and received first-round playoff byes all four seasons. They twice reached the Super Bowl – in 2013, when he shattered all of the NFL’s significant single-season passing records, and in his final season of 2015, when he played a secondary role to Denver’s defense.
More personally, Manning's final season was his toughest. He finished the regular season with just 9 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions and missed six consecutive games to recover from a torn plantar fascia in his left heel.
His low point came Nov. 15 in a home game against Kansas City. Bothered by both his left foot injury and a pulled rib cage, Manning completed just 5 of 20 passes for 35 yards with four interceptions. His 0.0 passer rating was the worst of his career. He was pulled late in the third quarter with the Broncos down, 22-0.
At that point, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak sat Manning down and started playing Brock Osweiler, who played well. Manning returned in time to come off the bench and lead the Broncos to victory in the regular-season finale against San Diego, then started, and won, all three postseason games, including Super Bowl 50.
“Peyton and I will have some interesting stories throughout the rest of our lives to talk about going through this year together," Kubiak said in a statement. "He’s a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person, and I wish him all the best in the future.”
Manning joins Broncos’ general manager John Elway as the only two quarterbacks to finish their careers with a Super Bowl championship. Elway finished his 16-year playing career in Denver with back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997-98.
“There’s no question that his work ethic is what made him into one of the great quarterbacks of all time," Elway said in a statement. "All the film study Peyton did and the process that he went through with game planning and understanding what the other teams did was second-to-none.
“Peyton was a player that guys wanted to play with. That made us better as a team, and I’m thrilled that we were able to win a championship in his final year. Peyton won a lot of awards and set a lot of records, but to me, what he helped our team accomplish during the last four years is what stands out the most.''
The Broncos will now turn their attention to re-signing Osweiler to a multiyear contract extension before he becomes a free agent on Wednesday. Osweiler went 5-2 in place of Manning as the Broncos’ starting quarterback in the final seven games of the 2015 season. The Broncos have offered Osweiler a three-year contract that worth incentives is worth more than $45 million.
Manning’s retirement was both expected based on signs he dropped near the end of this season and shocking in how abruptly his play diminished.
Seven games into the 2014 season, Manning had 22 touchdown passes against just 3 interceptions. And that was on top of his 2013 season in which he set NFL records with 55 touchdown passes (against only 10 interceptions) and 5,477 passing yards.
Manning, it seemed couldn’t be stopped. The line of demarcation came in game 8 of last season at New England. Manning threw two interceptions in a 43-21 loss and characterized his own play as “stinks.’’
From that day on, Manning threw 26 touchdown passes against 29 interceptions.
"He didn’t all the sudden forget how to play the position," Sharpe said. "And we all know what it was: Injury.’’
A big reason why Manning’s play fell off is his body began to break down. He suffered a strained right quad in game 14 at San Diego in 2014. When the Broncos lost their opening playoff game in the second round against Indianapolis to end the 2014 season, Manning briefly considered retiring.
He wound up coming back with a $4 million pay cut – from $19 million to $15 million – although he made it back through a $2 million bonus for winning the AFC Championship Game against New England, 20-18, and another $2 million for helping the Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
His final season was also marred by two questionable reports that involved digging up his past. The first, by Al Jazeera, strongly implied Human Growth Hormone that was mailed in 2011 from an Indianapolis medical institute to Ashley Manning was intended for Peyton.
The second occurred a week after Super Bowl 50 when a New York Daily News writer reported on a sexual complaint filed by a former University of Tennessee female trainer who had sued Manning and his father Archie Manning back in 2003.
Those two off-field blows were in stark contrast to Manning’s long-held national popularity and philanthropic heart. His Peyback Foundation has provided more than $11 million to at-risk youth in the states of Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee and his home state of Louisiana.
Manning has also starred in several commercials and was a frequent guest on nighttime comedy shows such as David Letterman and Saturday Night Live.
On the field, Manning was known for his passing accuracy and ability to control the game at the line of scrimmage like no one had before him or since.
"You changed the game forever and made everyone around you better," New England quarterback Tom Brady wrote on his Facebook page. "It's been an honor.''
The knock against Manning throughout his career was he didn’t win enough in the postseason in general and Brady and the Patriots in particular. In Manning’s press conference, he acknowledged that rivalry, and got a laugh from the crowd.
“I’ll miss that handshake with Tom Brady,” Manning said. “I’ll even miss the Patriot fans in Foxborough and they should miss me too…they sure did get a lot of wins off of me.”
But thanks to his late run in his final season, Manning finished with a 14-13 postseason record, which included three consecutive wins against Brady’s Patriots in AFC Championship games.
“He was always at a disadvantage,'' Sharpe said. “When he won, he was supposed to, he was Peyton Manning. When he lost, it was, “see I told you he can’t beat the greats.' You can write the narrative any way you want, but when it came to the game to get the Super Bowl, he was 3-1 against Tom Brady.”
The No. 18 Manning wore with the Broncos will be re-retired. It had been retired since 1963 in honor of Frank Tripucka, the first quarterback in Broncos’ history. Tripucka, who died at 85 in 2013, had given his permission in 2012 for Manning to take his number.
In 2021, following his five full years of retirement, Manning is certain to be inducted in both the Broncos’ Ring of Fame and Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.
"For somebody to (match what Manning did for the Broncos) they’re going to have to win a Super Bowl, win an MVP, throw for 56 touchdowns, 5,500 yards after the age of 36," Sharpe said. "I don’t know if that will ever be done. Somebody might change teams and win a few games. But nobody is going to have the four-year stretch he had in Denver. It might happen again, but we’re not going to be around when it does.