INDIANAPOLIS – This wasn't the parade I always expected at the end of Peyton Manning's career with the Indianapolis Colts. And, as much as we all saw this coming, it still stung to watch.
They turned the page in Indy, and it felt like tearing a Band-Aid off an open wound.
Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay stood in front of the media on Wednesday at the Colts practice facility and talked about the Colts'/Irsay's decision to release Manning. Irsay thanked him profusely, wished him well, vowed to retire his jersey and choked up.
Manning told Colts fans and the city he loved them and said he understood the circumstances that produced this break-up. Then he choked up.
If you were a Colts fan watching at home, this was when you reached for the Kleenex. Or threw your remote control through the screen. If you didn't understand why Manning and the Colts were breaking up before the news conference, I'm not sure you'd feel any more content today.
Much was made of circumstances and the Colts' decision to rebuild, and that's at the heart of the matter. Irsay said it wasn't about the money. Manning said it wasn't about the money. For all the dismissal of financial implications, 2011 sure proved costly to the Colts we've come to know.
What did we learn that was new? Not much, except we heard Manning say that he feels almost like his old self throwing the ball. While he doesn't know what his next step is – or, more likely, isn't sharing yet – he had to smile at the question about why he wasn't retiring after four neck surgeries in 19 months.
“I don't want to retire,” Manning said, drawing one of the few laughs during the event. “Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do.”
Irsay's telling comment of the day was his desire that Manning finish his career with a contender, the implication being that the Colts aren't going to be contending anytime soon. That may be true. They'll have a rookie quarterback, probably Stanford's Andrew Luck, and a bunch of other new faces. But rarely does an owner downplay his own team while hoping the player he's releasing soars to new heights.
Irsay intended, I believe, to show his affection for Manning and for how much he values him as a friend. All cynicism aside, I found that to be genuine.
“It's a difficult day here, with shared pain between Peyton and myself,” Irsay said.
Pain was indeed an operative word.
Irsay and Manning said they spent countless hours talking over the situation, looking for ways that made sense for Manning to remain with the franchise he took to unprecedented heights. They were together through Tuesday night, flying together from Florida to Indianapolis, driving away from the airport together. They went their separate ways today.
Manning mentioned their friendship and the mutual support. I found that genuine, too. He didn't want it to end this way. Fate intervened. Manning's poor health led to a sickly season for the Colts. That led to the No.1 draft pick and Irsay's decision, ultimately, to start over from scratch, plus Robert Mathis.
Manning sounded like a quarterback who expects to play the way he always has the next time he steps on the field. He knows he'll be in a different uniform, but he also said he'll “always be a Colt.”
If Irsay hasn't commissioned the statue yet, he'll want to put that on his post-draft to-do list.
“I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts,” Manning said in his first opening comments.
He choked up several times, halting to gather his emotions. He took questions at the end, even politely halting a shouting reporter to finish a thought on a previous question.
“I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media and especially the fans,” Manning said. “I haven't thought yet about where I will play, but I have thought a lot about where I've been. I have truly been blessed.”
The long talks between Manning and Irsay apparently included tons of reminiscing, with some laughs and other emotions over their time together. It's still hard to believe they couldn't find a way – if it's not about the money for either – to stay together to the end.
“We had good healthy talks about where everything was and what circumstances were,” Manning said. “The circumstances was the third guy in the talks with us all the time. It wasn't (Irsay's) decision. It wasn't my decision. The circumstances kind of dictated that.”
Someone let me know if you run into this “circumstances” guy. I'd like to punch him in the nose.