In a press conference so important to the city of Indianapolis that some local schools reportedly stopped classes and piped it through their intercom systems, Peyton Manning and team owner Jim Irsay said a tearful goodbye to Manning's tenure as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
"In the history of sports through the last century, there's been a handful of Hall of Fame players that have done incredible things for franchises," Irsay said. "I know that this parallels the handful of people through time who have meant so much to franchises. In my heart, and in the hearts of our fans, it's unparalleled for the Colts. It's a shared pain ... and the No. 18 jersey will never be worn [by a Colts player] again.
"Peyton and I have had numerous conversations over the months, and we always kept trying to come back to the circumstances that were before us. We tried to put each other in each other's shoes, and tried to realize what the situation was for the franchise, and what it was for Peyton. In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome. We're going forward as a rebuilding team with salary cap problems, and Peyton is on the mend to try and resume his career.
"We both wanted to be together. It's been very difficult, and just tearing at our hearts to try to look to find the best solution."
Irsay, who spoke first at the noon ET press conference, had to stop to compose himself several times -- he appeared to be on the verge of tears through his opening statement, but he was especially emotional when talking about how he and Manning came up in the NFL together and saw so many dreams come true.
"The good times we've shared together and the laughs we've shared together -- growing up together in the organization. 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."
It wasn't any easier for Manning to hold his emotions in check, and it was very clear that despite the tough decisions each side has been forced to make, there is still a great deal of respect and affection between Manning and Irsay.
"I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts," Manning said in a prepared statement. "For 14 wonderful years, the only professional football I've known is Colts football. Our team won a lot of games here, and I played with so many great teammates here, and I've been part of a great organization. I've been a Colt for almost my entire adult life -- but in life, and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL.
"Jim and I have spoken extensively about where we are today, and our conversations have led both of us to recognize that our circumstances make it best for us to take this next step. This has not been easy for Jim, and it certainly has not been easy for me."
According to several reports, Irsay and Manning tried to hammer out a scenario in which Manning could remain with the franchise, but the conditions posed by Irsay were too restrictive for a quarterback on the wrong end of the age curve. He would have to allow Andrew Luck to compete for the starting job after Luck's certain draft selection, most likely lose practice reps to Luck, and fade into the background in a general sense. It's the responsible tack to take by an owner who is facing a total rebuild, but Manning needs -- and deserves -- more.
"I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, and especially the fans. I haven't thought yet about where I'll play, but I have thought a lot about where I've been. I've been blessed to play here, and I've been truly blessed to be in the NFL."
True to form, Manning ended the statement in which he showed as much class as possible with a very nice message to the fans.
"Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback."
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- Peyton Manning
- Indianapolis Colts
- Jim Irsay