From Manning, major thanks to fans

An emotional Peyton Manning, pledging that no one loves playing quarterback more than he does, said goodbye to the Colts in a 20-minute news conference this afternoon.

It sounded like he was anticipating an afternoon of goodbyes with support staff at team headquarters with whom he’s had long-term relationships. When he spoke of one faction of those people, the equipment guys, his voice cracked.

“It’s weighed real heavy on my heart but, yeah, I am at peace with it,” he said of parting with the team that drafted him first overall in 1998. He and owner Jim Irsay both said that it wasn’t a decision either of them wanted to make, but one the circumstances dictated.

He was most emphatic about his thanks to fans of the Colts.

“This town and this team mean so much to me,” Manning said. “It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans and I’ll always enjoy having played for such a great team. I leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media and especially the fans.

“I haven’t thought yet about where I’ll play. But I have thought a lot about where I’ve been. And I’ve truly been blessed.”

Turning to fans specifically, he said: “Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”