Manning goes from emotional exit to reality of free agency
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 7:00 pm
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning is getting an early glimpse into life as a free agent.
Hours after a tearful, trying farewell news conference in Indianapolis, Manning flew back to his home in Miami and was immediately peppered with questions about his next landing spot. He’d better get used to it. The scene is likely to play out at every destination he visits until he decides where to play next season.
“I haven’t thought about teams and I don’t know who is interested, I really don’t. This is all new to me,” Manning said. “I think my agent has been getting calls at 4 o’clock today since this started. I haven’t talked to him because I literally just got off the plane and am ready to start back on my training again because that’s what I need to do.”
If Manning is healthy, he’ll be the hottest commodity to hit the open market in decades: a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with Hall of Fame credentials.
After the Colts decided not to pick up Manning’s $28 million bonus, team owner Jim Irsay ended months of speculation by releasing the 14-year veteran and longtime face of the franchise. Indianapolis is likely to find Manning’s replacement in April’s draft, presumably Stanford’s Andrew Luck; the Colts have the first overall pick.
For Manning, Irsay and Colts fans, it was heart-wrenching saying goodbye.
Irsay and Manning exchanged hugs, laughs and even took turns fighting back tears during a news conference at the Colts’ team complex. The room is normally used for celebrations such as hiring coaches or general managers or retirements, and it’s decorated with banners of the Colts’ greatest players. Manning’s banner is flanked by two Hall of Famers, Eric Dickerson and John Mackey.
But this was a sad occasion, filled with emotion.
“I do love it here, I love the fans and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team. 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, his voice cracking. “As I go, I go with just a few words left to say. A few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
At age 35, the man who won one Super Bowl, a record four MVP awards and who helped the Colts land a new stadium and the city’s first Super Bowl is starting over.
Gone will be his longtime friends and teammates and the system he perfected. Manning knew the Colts’ offense so well, he could literally point out a flaw in the defense, flap his arms, bark new play calls and signal the changes to teammates — usually before the play clock expired. Gone, too, will be the familiar No. 18 in blue and white. Irsay promised no Colts’ player would wear that number again.
Instead, Manning must learn the proper free-agent etiquette.
“I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works. I don’t know if it’s like college recruiting where you go take visits,” he said. “I mean, this is all so new to me. The Indianapolis Colts are the only team that I’ve ever played for, the only team I ever worked out for.”
Workouts will almost certainly be part of the process as Manning attempts to prove he can perform like his old self after missing the entire 2011 season because of a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his right arm. He had the most recent of his multiple neck surgeries Sept. 8.
On Wednesday, Manning insisted he’s closer than ever to being 100 percent though he’s not completely recovered.
“I’m throwing it pretty well. I still have some progress to make, but I’ve come a long way,” Manning said.
Published in The Messenger 3.8.12