He had to crack a few jokes to help fight back the tears at his retirement news conference Monday, when the words didn’t always come as easy as the emotions.
His voice cracking, especially when he mentioned his hero, Johnny Unitas, Manning said goodbye to the game he loved in an auditorium packed with friends, family and laughter.
Manning, who turns 40 this month, said the timing was simply right to call one last audible one month after winning his second Super Bowl trophy.
Aside from that, it’s anybody’s guess.
“When I look back on my NFL career, I’ll know without a doubt that I gave everything I had to help my teams walk away with a win,” Manning said. “There were other players who were more talented, but there was no one could out-prepare me, and because of that I have no regrets.”
Elway thanked Manning for coming to Colorado, saying he made his own job easier, noting that with Manning living here, free agents were basically asking Elway “where do I sign?”
It was through the eyes of a former QB and not those of a GM that Elway really enjoyed watching Manning, however.
“Peyton Manning revolutionized the game,” Elway said. “We all used to think a no-huddle was a fast pace, get to the line of scrimmage and get people off-balance. Peyton revolutionized it, and you know what, we’re going to get to the line of scrimmage, take our time, I’m going to find out what you’re doing and then I’m going to pick you apart.
“I can’t tell you how many times I said, ‘Dang, why didn’t we think of that?'”
Manning went 50-15 in Denver, leading the Broncos to four AFC West titles, two Super Bowl trips, one championship, and in 2013 guided the highest-scoring offense in league history. All after retraining himself to throw following a series of neck fusion surgeries forced him to miss the 2011 season and he was cut by the Colts.
Former Colorado Rockies slugger Todd Helton, Manning’s teammate at Tennessee in the 1990s, once told the story about how Manning’s right arm was so shot after his neck operations that he thought Peyton was goofing around when he threw a football and it fluttered like a wounded duck.
“He had nothing,” Helton recounted. “But I knew he’d come back and be Peyton Manning again because nobody else works that hard.”
Manning revealed last summer he still had no feeling in the fingertips of his right hand, and yet he threw 140 of his NFL-best 539 TD passes for the Broncos, including a record 55 in 2013.
Team president Joe Ellis told Manning, “If there is a list of achievements needed to attain greatness, you’ve checked every box.”
Elway was equally emotional when he walked away from the game after winning his second championship in 1999, and on Monday he said, “Having been through it, I know it’s a hard day for him.”
The Cowboys have lost six straight games, and part of Bryant’s outburst was about the media “disrespecting this team.”
“Dez shouldn’t be in that situation,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “If someone’s going to incite him, just remove yourself from the situation.”
In a Friday news conference, Garrett said the coaches will use the incident as an opportunity to improve and stay focused on football.
“We have to understand the world we live in and handle ourselves better,” he said.
Indeed, Manning choked up several times, especially when he listed all the things he’d miss about football: deciphering defenses; the flights home after a big win; his teammates.