USA TODAY - On his way down the tunnel of EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Jim Irsay knew. His step was swift as he made his way toward the team plane, his eyes trained straight ahead after the team's 2011 season-ending loss to the Jaguars. It was why the normally voluble Colts owner would only stop for a brief moment to address the media who stalked him that day.
"I knew when I walked out of that locker room, I knew that it had ended,'' Irsay said Thursday during a lengthy interview in his office. "I saw players in that locker room who'd I'd known for years and knew they wouldn't be back. On my way to the airport, there were tears rolling down my face.''
One of those players, of course, was Peyton Manning.
That day, Irsay knew what most people were not yet willing to admit. Saddled - or blessed - with the worst record in the league (2-14), the Colts were going to get a shot at Andrew Luck, widely viewed as the best quarterback prospect since John Elway. And there was no room for the iconic Manning any longer.
As often as Irsay tried to figure out a way, as much as Manning tried to figure out how he might stay, circumstances conspired against both men.
A year ago next week - on March 6 - the word leaked out: The Colts were going to release Manning.