Peyton Manning is going out a champion.
Weeks after capturing his second Super Bowl title, the storied career of the NFL's all-time passing leader has come to an end.
Manning announced his retirement after 18 seasons in the league at a news conference on Monday. Manning called key Broncos figures including VP John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak on Saturday night to tell them of his plans. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported Sunday that Manning would retire.
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"Peyton Manning's extraordinary career was driven by his talent, an incredible work ethic, and an unwavering desire to be the best and ended so perfectly for him with a Super Bowl victory," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. " Peyton's competitive fire and love of the game made him a legendary player who thrilled fans for a generation. He has served as a great representative of the NFL both on the field and in his community. We are forever grateful for Peyton's unmatched contributions to the game and know that his success will continue in the next phase of his life."
Manning's future has been debated since before he helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara last month, his second title as a player. The Broncos have been preparing for this moment, already offering Manning's backup last season Brock Osweiler a pricey three-year contract. Publicly, Manning held his cards close to the vest this month, showing some natural conflict about the retirement decision. But he's leaving the game at the right time.
"When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it's easy to see how fortunate we've been to have him on our team," said Elway. "Peyton was everything that we thought he was and even more -- not only for the football team but in the community. I'm very thankful Peyton chose to play for the Denver Broncos, and I congratulate him on his Hall of Fame career."
It's hard to imagine professional football in the 21st century without Manning. His unrelenting consistency, accuracy, and pre-snap adjustments helped to define the quarterback position since he entered the league in 1998. No quarterback in league history was better at reading defenses and avoiding sacks. (His "sack percentage" is the lowest of all time.) Even his press conferences became a template that other "faces of the franchise" followed.
Manning retires as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, a history he uniquely appreciates. In addition to his career yards and passing touchdowns records, Manning won a record five league MVPs. Manning's Super Bowl triumph gave him an NFL record 200 career wins (regular season and playoffs combined). Manning also became the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
Perhaps the most productive regular season quarterback ever (7 first-team All Pros), Manning was a shell of his former self for much of the 2015 regular season. A torn plantar fascia in his foot and the culmination of neck surgeries on his arm strength made it difficult for Manning to operate. But he mostly avoided mistakes and helped support the Broncos defense during an improbable late run that started when he replaced Osweiler in Week 17 of the regular season.
"Being hurt and struggling early in the season wasn't a lot of fun so I was grateful to get back heathy and to try and play my part these past couple of weeks," Manning said after winning Super Bowl 50 over the Panthers.
It was strange to see Manning in a supporting role with these Broncos because he was the engine that made his team run for the rest of his career. With the Colts, Manning played beyond his years soon after he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick out of Tennessee. While he led the league in interceptions as a rookie on a three-win team, he also threw for 26 touchdowns and over 3,700 yards. By the time Manning returned for his second season, he was already playing like a Pro Bowler.
Manning piled up huge numbers annually playing for the Colts, helping guys like Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Marcus Pollard, Dallas Clark, and Edgerrin James turn into local legends. The Colts' offense, engineered by Manning and former coordinator Tom Moore, was based on an eerie precision that maximized Manning's insane practice habits. The Colts didn't surprise opponents with a large playbook. They just executed better than anyone, daring opponents to stop them.
It took Manning four tries to win his first postseason game, which came in 2003. And Bill Belichick's Patriots were able to stop some of Manning's best Colts offenses after the 2003 and 2004 playoffs. But the 2006 AFC Championship proved to be Manning's finest hour, helping the Colts overcome a 21-3 deficit against New England on the way to his first Super Bowl title two weeks later against the Chicago Bears.
Monday's retirement announcement was not Manning's first emotional goodbye. His goodbye news conference after 13 seasons with the Colts was one of the most memorable moments of his career. It's easy to forget now, but there were doubts about whether Manning could continue his career after he missed the 2011 season. Manning wound up undergoing four surgeries to fix his neck, and became the most fascinating free agent since Reggie White in 2012.
Manning wound up choosing to sign with the Broncos over suitors like Tennessee and San Francisco in part because of Elway's sales job. Manning chose well. The Broncos won at least 12 games in each of Manning's four seasons with the team. The 2013 Broncos set the league's scoring record, and Manning threw a record 55 touchdowns that season. Manning threw for 151 touchdowns and 59 picks with the Broncos, not bad for a player on the back nine of his career. But postseason success eluded Manning early in Denver like it did with the Colts, including a 43-8 loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
The difficulties of the 2015 season, including accusations of HGH use that led to an NFL investigation, cast a pall over this season for Manning and the Broncos. For the first time, he was a bigger story off the field than he was on the field as he recovered from his foot injury. It made Manning's championship run all the sweeter and more surprising as it truly felt like a last chance.
Speculation about Manning's retirement continued to grow throughout the season, rising to another level after on-field cameras caught Manning telling Patriots coach Bill Belichick that "this might be my last rodeo" after the Broncos' AFC Championship win.
In the end, the decision to leave the game with a Lombardi Trophy in his hand proved too great of an ending for Manning to pass up.
"Along the way we talked about dreaming that it could end the way it ended," Kubiak said in a statement. "And I'll be damned it did."