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Despite divorce, Manning's legacy in Indy will live forever

Fourteen years ago, shortly before the 1998 NFL Draft, Colts owner Jim Irsay sent his private jet to pick up quarterback Peyton Manning in Tennessee and deliver him to Miami Beach for a breakfast meeting between the two.

By the time the meal ended, Irsay was all but convinced: Manning would be his No. 1 pick. As Manning hopped in a van to leave, he turned back toward Irsay and uttered one short, spontaneous sentence.

"I'll win for you," Manning said.

Man, did he ever.

With the Colts expected to cut Manning on Wednesday, Manning will put this chapter behind him, anxious to turn his attention toward the next one. It is only appropriate that he does it alongside Irsay because this, after all, should not be about a bitter end. It should be about taking a look back on his time in Indianapolis, where he put together one of the greatest résumés in the history of the NFL.

A four-time NFL MVP. A career record of 141-67. He had 35 fourth-quarter comebacks and 46 game-winning drives. A Super Bowl championship in 2006. It's plenty to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, of course. And perhaps enough to vault him into the discussion as the best to ever play his position.

So although Manning's past few months have provided tense times between he and his owner, ultimately leading to his departure before his career is over, it simply won't be possible to mar his tenure in blue and white.

"It's tough, and it's somewhat sad," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "But it happens to everybody. If you play long enough, something is going to happen. It's unfortunate that it happened this way for Peyton with the injury.

"But it's all been done before. Look at Joe Montana."

Just as Montana will always be a 49er despite a stint with the Chiefs, just as Brett Farve will always be a Packer despite stints with the Vikings and the Jets, Manning undoubtedly will always be a Colt.

Indeed, it's going to take some level of acclimation to see Manning in a new uniform, which appears to be an inevitable step in this strange year for Manning. So brace yourself for it, but realize time eventually will tie his career back to the Colts.

"It would seem a little weird, just like when Favre went to another team," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "It just doesn't seem right in the beginning. But the weirdness fades."

Here's what won't fade: Manning's legacy in Indianapolis, one that will be remembered for his relentlessly competitive spirit, a level of unmatched improvisation and a control of his offense that is like few other quarterbacks who have ever played this game.

Where will Manning end up next? Will it be Miami? Or New York? Maybe Seattle? Or Arizona? You'll hear plenty of potential destinations in the coming days, and rightfully so. Despite at least three surgeries on his neck since 2010, despite turning 36 on March 24, Manning's NFL success still demands the attention of so many quarterback-starved teams.

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This day doesn't mark the end for one of the greatest football talents of our time. But it does mark the end of an era that was so often defined by Manning wearing blue and white.

As he heads to Indianapolis to meet Irsay on Wednesday for the final news conference of his career with the Colts, he'll be flying from Miami, where he holds an offseason home. This flight, though, won't be quite the same as that one 14 years ago when Manning just finished his pre-draft meeting with Irsay.

"I'll win for you," Manning said in 1998.

Man, did he ever.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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