Peyton Manning’s retirement speech Monday in Denver was everything you’d expect from someone who studied theater in school and turned football into a kind of theater, as Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said. It was eloquent and emotional.
“There were other players who were more talented,” he said, choking up frequently. “But there was no one who could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets.”
It was a classic example of how to walk away – without bitterness and with gratitude for the roles others have played in your life. In hitting all the right notes, though, Manning added some unusual grace notes. It was, he said, the little things that loomed large in hindsight:
"I’m going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis after a win. My battles with players named Lynch, Lewis, Thomas, Bruschi, Fletcher, Dawkins, Seau, Urlacher, Polamalu, Harrison, Woodson and Reed. And with coaches like Fisher, Ryan, Belichick, Kiffin, Phillips, Rivera, LeBeau, Crennel, Capers, Lewis, the late Jim Johnson, and so many more. I always felt like I was playing against that middle linebacker or that safety or that defensive coach.
"I’ll miss figuring out blitzes with Jeff Saturday. Reggie sitting on top of the bench next to me. Perfecting a fake handoff to Edgerrin James. I’ll miss Demaryius Thomas telling me that he loved me and thanking me for coming to Denver after every touchdown I threw to him.”
Manning has been criticized in the blogosphere for allegedly taking HGH, human growth hormone, and engaging in sexual misconduct during his student days at the University of Tennessee. (He again denied the sexual allegations at his retirement press conference. The NFL continues to investigate the HGH claim.)
A farewell address is a lot like a eulogy. It’s not the place for allegations. Instead it errs on the side of the optimistic.
"There’s a saying that goes, treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is,” Manning said. “Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be.”
On the field and at the podium Monday, Manning was everything he should be.