‘After 18 years, it’s time:’ Peyton Manning rides off into the sunset

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An emotional Peyton Manning bid farewell to the NFL on Monday after 18 seasons, one month to the day he and the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.

With his parents, brother Cooper, wife, children and former teammates with the Broncos and Colts in attendance at packed news conference, Manning said he revered football.

"I love the game," he said. "You don't have to wonder if I will miss it. I will absolutely miss it.

“But after 18 years, it’s time.”

With his voice cracking, Manning reminisced on his 18-year career that included two Super Bowl championships and the recovery from four neck surgeries that prompted the Indianapolis Colts to release him in 2012.

Manning then signed with the Broncos and led them to four AFC West titles, four first-round playoff byes, two Super Bowls and one championship, including a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers on Feb. 7 in Super Bowl 50.

After a family vacation in Mexico and a hunting trip, Manning deliberated whether to return for another decided but determined it was time to walk away.

"I will miss it," Manning said. "Football fans need to know how much they meant to me over the years. Life is not shrinking for me. It's morphing into a whole new world of possibilities."

He recalled how he still owns the NFL record for 28 interceptions as a rookie.

“Every year I pull for a rookie to break that record,” he said, noting that younger brother Eli might have done so had he started all 16 games his rookie year.

He listed many things he will miss about football. Steak dinners after wins. Going against great players such as John Lynch and Troy Polamalu, to name a few. To battling against coaches like Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher, and trying to figure out blitzes with longtime Colts center Jeff Saturday.

How Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas would constantly tell Manning how much he loved him and thanking Manning for coming to Denver each time he caught a touchdown pass.

Manning also said he would miss his handshakes with Tom Brady and the fans, especially Patriots fans in Foxborough.

“They sure should miss me because they sure did get a lot of wins off me,” Manning said.

Manning spoke for about 15 minutes and finished to a standing ovation.

"I fought the good fight," he said. "It's time. God bless all of you. God bless football."

Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway, his voice raspy after being ill in the month since the Super Bowl, said he know what Manning was going through.

“I know this is a tough day for him because I’ve been there,” Elway said.

Elway retired in 1999, a few months after the Broncos won their second Super Bowl title.

Elway praised Manning for "revolutionizing the quarterback position."

"To me, the things that's most amazing is the way Peyton went about it," Elway said. "I know how much it meant to him. He utilized every asset that God gave him to be the best football player he could be. That's what sets him apart. He got every ounce of ability out."

Coach Gary Kubiak recalled how he and Manning had several private meetings after the quarterback was pulled in the second half of the Week 9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

He said the two worked together to make sure Manning would get better after suffering a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Kubiak also recalled a funny tale of how he knew Manning was ready to return to the lineup and that he wanted to play in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers.

Coach Gary Kubiak followed with a story detailing the highs and lows of Manning's recovery after injuring his left foot. Manning he said made it clear he was ready to play in the days leading up to season finale, setting him a message on the video Kubiak watched of Manning's throwing sessions in the indoor practice field.

"It was the No. 1 signal," Kubiak said. "I told Peyton I got the message. ... I only spent nine months with you, but I will remember it a lifetime."

Broncos team president Joe Ellis called it a “historic day for the Denver Broncos and the National Football League,” saying Manning made the team, the organization and the community better.

"It was always about being the best teammate and the best he could be," Ellis said. "If there was a list to attain greatness, you have checked every box. We will miss watching you play quarterback."

After Manning took the last of questions, he ended the news conference by saying one word.

“Omaha.”

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