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Indianapolis needed to cut Manning this week to avoid paying him a bonus from the $90 million, five-year contract he signed in July, although both owner and player insisted the decision was not really about money. The Colts are widely expected to begin moving on by taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft.
Irsay repeatedly used the word "rebuilding" and acknowledged: "We’re definitely a few years away."
Manning, Irsay said, "is on the mend to try to resume his career."
Manning hopes to be playing in the NFL at the start of next season.
Still, he said Wednesday: "I’ll always be a Colt. I always will be. That’ll never change."
When the news conference ended, Manning reached over to shake hands with Irsay, who instead tried to offer a hug, and they wound up settling for pats on the shoulder before walking off together and leaving the room.
Clearly, this was not an easy adieu for Manning.
Mentioning Colts employees he’ll no longer be around, Manning paused to collect himself while noting: "We’ve got the greatest equipment guys in the world."
"I think about those type of relationships — not necessarily always on the field, and the touchdown throw to win the game. It’s the behind the scenes. The laughs. The stories. The times spent together. Those are the memories. Those aren’t going away," he said. "Those will be with me for the rest of my life."
Manning will forever be thought of around these parts as the QB who led the Colts to an NFL championship, barking out signals while waving his arms at the line of scrimmage to change a play after reading the defense — something he did as well as anyone.
He’ll be remembered, too, for turning a basketball-loving city into a football hotbed that hosted the Super Bowl a month ago.
During that Super Bowl week, the hottest topic of conversation was Peyton Manning, not his younger brother Eli, who wound up leading the New York Giants to the title.
"There will be no other Peyton Manning," Irsay said, adding that he hoped Wednesday’s joint appearance would serve to "honor incredible memories and incredible things that he’s done for the franchise, for the city, for the state."
Manning started every meaningful game for 13 seasons — 227 in a row, including the playoffs — and took Indianapolis from perennial also-ran to one of the NFL’s model franchises and the 2007 Super Bowl title.
In the two decades before he arrived in town, the Colts won 116 games, one division title and made the playoffs three times. With Manning taking snaps, the Colts won 150 games, eight division titles, two AFC championships and the franchise’s first league championship since moving from Baltimore in 1984.
Indianapolis broke the NFL record for most regular-season wins in a decade (115), and tied Dallas’ mark for most consecutive playoff appearances (nine). Manning broke all of the franchise’s major career passing records, previously held by Hall of Famer John Unitas.
Unitas, of course, played 17 years for the Colts when they were in Baltimore, then finished his career with one season in San Diego at age 40.
Now it’s Manning’s turn to move on. "I want to get back out there and play. I don’t feel like everybody will say, ‘He has to do this’ or ‘He has to prove that.’ I don’t feel that way," he said. "I know how much I love being a quarterback and love football and I want to go play again."
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