Emotional Peyton Manning officially retires after 18 seasons

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Saying the time was right, an emotional Peyton Manning thanked family, friends and former teammates, coaches and opponents Monday as he ended his historic NFL career.

After taking a few moments to compose himself, Manning opened his remarks to a packed meeting room with a recollection of his first pass, first touchdown and first game as a pro. And he recalled meeting Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas during that rookie season.

"I had a chance to shake Johnny Unitas' hand and he said, 'Peyton, you stay at it,'" Manning said. "Well, I have stayed at it, I stayed at it for 18 years. And I hope old No. 19 is up there, with his flattop and maybe his black high-tops on and I hope he knows that I have stayed at it.

"There's just something about 18 years; 18 is a good number, and today I retire from pro football."

In just under 13 minutes, Manning also tried to thank two NFL cities and two franchises, as well as the University of Tennessee, and he tried to sum up his 18 seasons, five MVP awards, two Super Bowl wins and a pile of records.

And he even signed off with an "Omaha."

Manning said he called each of his former coaches over the past few days -- Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and John Fox -- and he spoke to Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. Manning said later he had called each of the coaches in the order in which he had played for them.

Manning also told a story about his daughter Mosley asking him if Super Bowl 50 was "the last game."

"Yes, Mosley it's the last game of the season," Manning said. "Then she asked, 'Daddy, is this the last game ever?' And that's just when I shook my head in amazement because I was thinking, 'Mort and Adam Schefter had gotten to my 5-year-old daughter to cultivate a new source.'"

All in all, it was a celebration of Manning's four years with the Broncos and 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, as well as an appreciation of his Hall of Fame career. Broncos CEO/team president Joe Ellis, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway and Kubiak all spoke before Manning. A short tribute video was also shown in an invitation-only gathering in the team meeting room at the Broncos' complex.

Ellis opened the event, calling it "an historic day'' and said Manning had "made our team better, made our organization better and made our community better.'' Ellis added he "looked forward'' to Manning's induction into the team's Ring of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is a five-year waiting period for both.

Manning had wrestled with the decision about whether or not to retire until late last week. On Saturday night, Manning started to notify many in his most-trusted inner circle of his intentions. Manning made a call to Kubiak as well that night.

"I revere football, I love the game,'' Manning said. "So, you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely, absolutely I will ... there were players who were more talented, but there was no one who could out-prepare me.''

More than a dozen of Manning's former teammates were in attendance -- 13 posed for a picture with Manning -- and several times there was applause during Manning's remarks.

Manning closed the speech -- which he said he had rehearsed only two or three times -- with a reference to a scripture (2 Timothy 4:7).

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,'' Manning said. "Well, I fought the good fight, I've finished my football race and after 18 years, it's time. God bless all of you and God bless football.''

Brother Eli wasn't able to attend Monday's news conference because he has been battling a stomach bug. In comments distributed by the Giants, he said he was "happy" for his brother.

"I am happy, obviously, for him winning a championship and getting to go out being happy about how the last season ended. You don't get to have those feelings very often, to end your football career on a positive note. It is special. I am happy that he was able to kind of go out on his own terms.

"I know it was tough for him, but I'm proud of the way he handled today. I thought he did a great job up there in his speech. You could see that it's going to be tough for him, but I think it is good timing and he's getting out at the right time."

Manning retired as the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940) and quarterback wins (186, tied with Brett Favre). After he signed in Denver in 2012 as perhaps the greatest catch of the free-agency era, his four-year run with the Broncos resulted in four AFC West titles, 50 regular-season wins and two Super Bowl trips, including the Broncos' 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers last month in Super Bowl 50.

Manning, who will turn 40 later this month, was a Super Bowl MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection and a seven-time first-team All-Pro. His teams made the playoffs in 15 of his 18 seasons, and he reached the 4,000-yard passing mark in 14 seasons.

In the Broncos' record-setting 2013 season, when they scored a single-season record 606 points -- the first time in league history a team topped 600 -- Manning set single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). It was the second time Manning threw for at least 49 touchdowns (2004 was the first) -- a mark reached only one other time in NFL history (Tom Brady in 2007).

Manning's retirement follows what he has often said was the "most unique" season of his career. He missed seven starts with a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel. In November, Manning had a cast on his left foot. In December, he was running the scout team, and by January, Kubiak had put him back in the lineup for one more playoff run.

At one point, Manning did address the lawsuit filed by a group of women alleging that the University of Tennessee violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" with an attitude of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.

The Tennessee lawsuit alleges that in 1996, when Manning was the Volunteers' quarterback, he placed his genitals on the face of a female athletic trainer while she was examining him for an injury. Manning has denied that he assaulted the trainer, saying instead that he was "mooning" a teammate. Manning was never the subject of a police investigation in the incident.

"First off, this is a joyous day, nothing can overtake this day,'' Manning said. "Sad that some people don't understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what has been alleged. I am not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old. And kind of like my dad used to say when I was in trouble, 'I can't say it any plainer than that.' So this is a joyous day, it's a special day and as Forrest Gump said, 'That's all I have to say about that.'''