ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning got through the weekend thanks to hundreds of texts and calls from men he played against or alongside over his unparalleled 18-year NFL career.
He had to crack a few jokes to help fight back the tears at his retirement news conference Monday, when the words didn't always come as easily as the emotions.
His voice cracking, especially when he mentioned his hero, Johnny Unitas, Manning said goodbye to the game he loved in an auditorium packed with friends, family and laughter.
Manning, who turns 40 on March 24, said the timing was right to call one last audible a month after winning his second Super Bowl trophy.
"I thought about it a lot, prayed about it a lot … it was just the right time," he said. "I don't throw as good as I used to, don't run as good as I used to, but I have always had good timing."
Manning came to Denver on March 20, 2012, for the chance to win another title in the twilight of his career. General manager John Elway had the blueprints.
Four years later, he hobbles away a champion, just like his boss did 17 years ago. Manning told the team of his decision over the weekend.
Manning is going golfing this week with brothers Cooper and Eli — whose scheduled Monday morning trip to Denver was scuttled by a stomach bug.
Manning, who holds NFL records for MVP awards (five) passing touchdowns (539) and passing yards (71,940), plans to travel to Indianapolis this month for a lower-key goodbye and said he'll participate in his family's annual passing academy this summer.
After that? Maybe a front office or a broadcast booth beckons. He hasn't ruled out anything but said he, his wife and 5-year-old twins will stay in Denver.
"I'm totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven't even discovered yet," Manning said. "Life is not shrinking for me; it's morphing into a whole new world of possibilities."
Elway thanked Manning for coming to Colorado, saying he made his own job easier, noting that with Manning there, free agents were basically asking Elway, "where do I sign?"
"Peyton Manning revolutionized the game," Elway said. "We all used to think a no-huddle was a fast pace, get to the line of scrimmage and get people off-balance. Peyton revolutionized it, and you know what, we're going to get to the line of scrimmage, take our time, I'm going to find out what you're doing and then I'm going to pick you apart.
"I can't tell you how many times I said, 'Dang, why didn't we think of that?'"
After breaking all of Unitas' passing records with the Colts, Manning went 50-15 in Denver with four AFC West titles and two Super Bowl trips. All after retraining himself to throw following a series of neck fusion surgeries forced him to miss the 2011 season and he was cut by the Colts.
Manning choked up several times, especially when he listed all the things he'd miss about football: Deciphering defenses; flights home after a big win; his teammates. And he declined to address in detail a recent rehashing of a sexual harassment claim from his days at Tennessee.
"This is a joyous day," he said, "and nothing could overtake this day."
He ended the session with his signature "Omaha!" then posed for pictures with more than a dozen former Colts and Broncos teammates who he helped to Super Bowl titles.