It was a long goodbye for Colts fans.
It began with, “Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
During a tear-filled press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Peyton Manning bid farewell to the Colts and Indianapolis on March 7, 2012.
Four years later, on March 7, 2016, in another teary press conference, this time from Englewood, Colorado, Peyton Manning bid farewell to the Broncos and the NFL.
“There’s just something about 18 years. 18 is a good number,” he said. “And today I retire from pro football.”
On March 18th, Manning returned to the Colts complex for the first time in four years. Wearing a horseshoe pin, Manning once again thanked the Colts, the Irsay family, and the city of Indianapolis and proclaimed, “I’ll always be a Colt.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay officially retired his number.
“No future Indianapolis Colt will ever wear the number 18.”
He also revealed plans to honor Manning with a statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, affectionately nicknamed, “the house that Peyton built.”
Manning then proceeded to tell stories from his 14 seasons playing quarterback of the Colts as former teammates Hunter Smith and Ryan Diem looked on smiling from the front row.
He got choked up for the first time talking about the fans.
“I can remember Colts fans and just the amount of jerseys they wore in the stadium, in the old RCA Dome, more than any other stadium in the league in my opinion.”
And how he left his large handprint on Indianapolis.
“It was basketball, basketball, basketball and it was car racing, car racing, car racing and where football was probably in that third priority and that is simply no longer the case. This is a football town. As good a football town as any.”
It was Peyton Manning story hour. And we were like kids gathered around him. We couldn’t get enough. And we never wanted it to end. As much fun as it was listening, Manning had just as much fun (if not more so) reliving the moments, most of which were more about people than plays.
“I really have enjoyed this past week and a half of going down memory lane and I really tried to avoid doing that while I was playing,” he said.
And again, he left us with, “Thank you all very much from the bottom of my heart.”
But this time, it was different. Peyton Manning’s return felt more like a beginning than an end.
Though his playing career is over, it’s the start of a new era for Peyton Manning. One that involves him as a retired Colt. A former player. A distinguished alumnus, who will be honored as such many times in the months and years to come.
And the biggest Colts fan, Jim Irsay, was thrilled to welcome him back as one.
“I think I speak for all Colt fans when we kind of feel like he’s ours,” he said.
As far as the future goes, Manning isn’t sure what that looks like just yet. But there’s one thing he does sound sure about.
“I think I’ll be okay.”
Thanks for the memories, Peyton.
We look forward to seeing what comes next for you.
For now, we’ll sit quietly and let you come up with your next big play.
But when you’re ready, we’ll be right there to cheer you on. Just like the old times.
And just like you taught us.