By Nate Davis, USA TODAY
Peyton Manning is no longer an Indianapolis Colt.
After 14 years, 11 playoff appearances, 11 Pro Bowls, eight division titles, five firs-team all-pro selections, a record four league MVP awards, two Super Bowl trips and one championship, the franchise officially said goodbye to Wednesday to the man it drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998.
"I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts," said Manning. "I've been a Colt for all my adult life ... but we know nothing lasts forever.
"Our circumstances make it best for us to take this next step."
Manning choked back his emotions while getting through his initial thoughts.
"I love it here, I love the fans," he said. "I'll leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude.
"I've been blessed to play here, I've been blessed to here in the NFL."
He made a point of thanking the city, fans, team and even media members.
"Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart," said Manning.
Owner Jim Irsay lauded Manning's career with the team while announcing its conclusion amid a "long difficult process."
Irsay says the Colts' salary cap issues and decision to rebuild necessitated a parting of the way but said Manning was "completely unselfish" in accepting the outcome.
"There will be no other Peyton Manning," said Irsay while getting emotional. "We've been so blessed to have him.
"He's always part of the horseshoe."
Manning said he was "confident" about resuming his NFL career
"I'm feeling closer and closer," he said of his recent physical progress after neck surgeries and nerve atrophy prevented him from playing in 2011. "It sure feels comfortable, feels like home being back out there. ... (But) I still have some work to do."
He has not thought about prospective teams he might play for in the future and that money had nothing to do with today's decision.
"I'm at peace," said Manning, thanking Irsay for being a sounding board and friend through an arduous process even though they seemed to engage in seemingly frosty exchanges this offseason, particularly during the week of Super Bowl XLVI, which was staged in Indianapolis but often took a backseat to Manning's situation.
He now follows front office execs Bill and Chris Polian and HC Jim Caldwell out the door following the team's 2-14 debacle of a season without No. 18. Irsay hired GM Ryan Grigson and HC Chuck Pagano as the club's new braintrust.
The Colts' record conferred the 2012 draft's No. 1 overall pick, which is widely expected to be used on former Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
"We're a ways away," said Irsay of an overhauled franchise that set a record for wins in a decade at the start of the century.
Manning went 150-77 (including playoffs) and never missed a start for the team until multiple neck surgeries over a 19-month span forced him from the field for the entire 2011 season. Manning has completed 64.9% of his regular-season throws; his 54,828 career passing yards and 399 TDs both rank third in NFL history but leave him within striking distance of Brett Favre's career records.
Manning conducted his first post-surgery throwing session in a December practice in Indianapolis as he tried to work his way back into the lineup and has been working out at Duke University in recent weeks. His next NFL employer will have to be comfortable about the progress of the nerve regeneration in the triceps of his throwing arm before signing him to a prospective deal.
But even Manning seems to know his next uniform will look odd.
"I'll always be a Colt, that will never change," he said.