The Colts formally announced on Wednesday that Peyton Manning is leaving the franchise, with owner Jim Irsay getting choked up as he gave a heartfelt speech about what Manning has done for his team.
“It’s an incredible blessing,” Irsay said. “As difficult as this day is, it’s made difficult because of the greatness and the things Peyton has done for our city, for our state, for our franchise. There will be no other Peyton Manning.”
Although there’s been some talk of animosity between Irsay and Manning in recent weeks, Irsay became emotional as he talked about his affection for Manning personally, noting that the two of them had grown into their roles as successful owner and superstar player together.
“Growing up together in the organization — when a 37-year-old owner met a 22-year-old player coming out of Tennessee, and the dreams that we had, and experienced are just beyond my imagination,” Irsay said. “I can’t thank him enough.”
Ultimately, however, Irsay had to make a tough decision for the future of the franchise, and the reality is that Irsay didn’t think he could afford an aging quarterback with a bad neck and a huge contract any longer.
“We both wanted to be together,” Irsay said. “It’s been very difficult — and just tearing at our hearts — to try to look at the best solution. Peyton has been completely unselfish in terms of looking at the franchise, where we were at at this point. . . . It’s never been about money, it’s never been about those types of things.”
Irsay also confirmed that the Colts will retire Manning’s number.
“The 18 jersey,” Irsay said, “will never be worn again.”
Except by the legions of fans who will still love Manning, even as they say goodbye.