An emotional Peyton Manning officially retired from the NFL on Monday after a stellar 18-year career, declaring that "18 is a good number."
"I fought a good fight," Manning said. "I have finished my football race, and after 18 years, it is time."
Manning leaves the league he helped popularize to supersize status as its all-time leading passer and winningest starting quarterback, the only one in NFL history to win Super Bowls with two franchises.
Manning said he is going to miss quite a bit about football, including: battles against players such as John Lynch and Troy Polamalu (to name a few); going against coaches like Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher, Rex Ryan (again, to name a few); figuring out blitzes with longtime center Jeff Saturday; and handshakes with Tom Brady
Manning said he'd miss the fans, even Patriots fans in Foxborough and, "they sure should miss me, because they sure did get a lot of wins off me."
Just shy of 40, Manning will forgo $19 million and a 19th season in the NFL, where he served as both a throwback and a transformer during a glittering career bookmarked by an unprecedented five MVP awards and dozens of passing records.
Manning said it was his preparation which made him so successful on the field.
He noted that he still owns the NFL record for 28 interceptions as a rookie and says, "Every year I pull for a rookie to break that record."
He said little brother Eli might have broken it had he started all 16 games his rookie year.
"I was truly honored to be a part of that game, to be playing the 50th Super Bowl," Manning said. "Obviously I've been a huge football fan growing up, and have watched a ton of Super Bowls, and walking out on that field for the pre-game warmups - it was about as beautiful of setting you could possibly imagine. And to be playing in it, I felt so honored and grateful."
His final season was marred by a pair of ugly accusations. First, a report claimed to link Manning to HGH use during his recovery from neck surgery. Second, a lawsuit brought up old accusations that the quarterback sexually harassed a female trainer while playing at the University of Tennessee. Manning has denied both allegations.
"It is sad that some people don't understand the truth and facts. I did not do what is alleged," Manning said Monday. "I'm not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19. ... Like Forrest Gump said, 'That's all I have to say about that.'"
His first Super Bowl win came in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998. The Colts gave up on him after a series of neck surgeries forced Manning to miss all of the 2011 season and left him without feeling in the fingertips of his right hand.
A rare superstar quarterback on the open market in 2012, Manning resettled in Denver, where, despite a right arm weakened by nerve damage, he went 50-15 with his fifth MVP award and two trips to the Super Bowl in four seasons.
The 18th season for No. 18 was by far his most trying on the field - and so, his sweetest. He had to adjust to new coach Gary Kubiak's run-based offense, to unrelenting health issues, and to questions about his character on his way to winning his second Super Bowl title.
Manning, whose dry wit and star power has made him a staple of late-night television and 30-second commercials for nearly two decades, saw his squeaky-clean image take a beating as the final pages were flipped on his storied career with the drug and harassment accusations.
A torn ligament in his left foot hampered Manning all the way back to August. It led to his worst statistical season and sidelined him for six weeks before that fairy tale finish in Santa Clara, California, when his defense carried him across the finish line.
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