INDIANAPOLIS – It was a Hall of Fame-type speech to cap a career that is more than gold-jacket worthy.
You expected Peyton Manning to go out on top.
He did that this year.
On the field.
And off of it.
On Monday in Denver, Manning spoke for nearly a dozen minutes about a career that will be remembered forever in the NFL.
An emotional Manning began his retirement speech by taking fans back to Sept. 6, 1998.
"In my very first NFL game, I completed my first pass to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. I threw a touchdown in that same game to Marvin Harrison, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this August…
Manning's complete appreciation for his time with the Colts came a few minutes later.
No. 18 spoke about the Colts' return to Baltimore in 1998, the franchise's first game back in the city they had previously called home.
The game ended in a loss for Manning, but he did get a chance to shake the hand of Colts' great Johnny Unitas after the game.
"(Unitas) told me, 'Peyton, you stay at it. I'm pulling for you,'" Manning said on Monday re-telling the story.
"Well I have stayed at it. I've stayed at it for 18 years and I hope that old No. 19 is up there with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on and I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he's even a little proud of me."
Many are proud of everything Manning has done.
On Monday, Manning wanted to make sure he let Colts' fans know how much he reciprocated their relationship.
"Thank you to the Indianapolis Colts organization, all of the fans across this country. You can't fathom how much I enjoyed my 14 years there, or the warmth my family feels for you. I'd be wrong not to mention Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, some great coaches, support staff and a host of wonderful Colts' teammates, many of whom will be lifelong friends."
"When I was drafted by the Colts, Indianapolis was a basketball and car racing town. But it didn't take long for the Colts to convert the city and state of Indiana into football evangelists. We ended my rookie season 3-13 and in the process I set the NFL rookie record for interceptions that I still hold today (smiles). Every year, I pull for a rookie quarterback to break that record. Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Cam Newton. I still kid Eli he would have broken it had he started all 16 games. In the beginning of my time in Indy, the team's struggles were agonizing. My grandfather would call me weekly to ask if his favorite announcers, John Madden and Pat Summerall would be broadcasting our game. 'Papa,' I would say, 'We are only 2-8 right now. We are playing the 3-7 Bengals. Madden and Summerall don't broadcast those kinds of games.'
Fast forward to my second year or when we had gotten things going a little bit. We were playing the Dallas Cowboys including Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. I called Papa, 'Guess what, Madden and Summerall are broadcasting the game.' He said, 'I can't believe it.' He was elated and very proud. We beat the Cowboys that week and we let the world know that the Colts had arrived. Make no mistake about it, we were coming. And we went on to do some phenomenal things like winning at least 12 games seven years in a row and of course winning Super Bowl XLI. I was truly honored to be a part of it."
As Manning's speech winded down on Monday, he wanted to share what he will miss the most about the game of football.
"I'm going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis after a win…"
"I'm going to miss figuring out blitzes with Jeff Saturday. Reggie (Wayne) sitting on top of the bench next to me. And perfecting a fake handoff to Edgerrin James..."
"I'll even miss the Patriots' fans in Foxborough. And they should miss me because they sure did get a lot of wins off of me."
What the future holds for Manning remains an unknown ("no chance" he plays football again, Manning said).
After hunting earlier this offseason with Jeff Saturday, Manning will next head on a golf trip with his brothers.
Manning listened to former coach Tony Dungy in taking time to close the book on such a extraordinary career. This past weekend, Manning called all five of his NFL head coaches to inform them of his decision and even singled out the equipment staff in Indy by name.
A bit of wit from Manning was there on Monday, but his constant gratitude towards the game of football was evident throughout.
"Absolutely I'll miss it. Absolutely I'll miss it," a choked up No. 18 repeated.
"After 18 years, it's time. God bless all of you and God bless football."