Peyton Manning looks on during a news conference in Indianapolis on Wednesday.… (Joey Foley / Getty Images )
Peyton Manning's release by the Indianapolis Colts was as civil a sports divorce as you'll ever see, announced Wednesday with dignity and more than a few tugs on the heartstrings.
Explained in sometimes wavering voices by Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay, this was a difficult but reasoned decision. Not to be confused with "The Decision," the contrived and ego-pumping TV show in which LeBron James told the world he would take his talents to South Beach. The world, by the way, is still waiting for him to take the NBA championship trophy there.
Manning might end up on South Beach too, but his exit from Indianapolis was conducted as gracefully as possible. It's an amicable divorce, though it brought him and Irsay nearly to tears several times during the news conference.
"We had good, healthy talks about where everything was, what the circumstances were. It was kind of that circumstances was the third guy in the talks with us all the time," Manning said of their discussions leading up to a Friday deadline for the Colts to release him or pay a $28-million bonus.
"It wasn't his decision. It wasn't my decision. Circumstances kind of dictated that. It's not what either of us wanted. It's just kind of the way it worked out to be."
It could work out to be the best move for both sides.
The Colts, 2-14 without the injured Manning last season, get to rebuild with presumed No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of Stanford, who could be the once-in-a-generation quarterback that Manning became after they chose him first overall in 1998. The Colts also get salary-cap relief. Irsay said that even without the bonus and Manning's $7-million salary next season the Colts will have to make other roster moves simply to sign their draft picks.
"There will be no other Peyton Manning. That's something that in a special place and a special time over the last decade and a half we've been so blessed to have him," Irsay said somberly, a contrast to the unpredictable, rock-lyric-quoting, guitar-loving persona of his Twitter account.
"The good times that we've had together, the laughs we've shared together," Irsay added, then paused to regain his composure. "You know, growing up together in the organization. You know, when a 37-year-old owner met a 22-year-old player coming out of Tennessee and the dreams that we had and experienced are beyond my imagination."
Manning, a few weeks from his 36th birthday and facing an uncertain athletic future after multiple neck surgeries, can satisfy his competitiveness by seeking a team in contention, a level the Colts aren't likely to reach for at least a few years.
Manning said he and Irsay discussed "all sorts of scenarios," and though he wouldn't be specific they likely discussed bringing Manning back to be a tutor and mentor to Luck. But Manning believes he can still play, though a grainy film of him working out at Duke that was posted on YouTube or his father, Archie, telling the Indianapolis Star last week that he "looks fine as far as throwing and velocity on the ball" don't prove anything.
"I don't want to retire. No, I don't feel I have anything to prove but nobody loves their job more than I do," Manning said. "Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do and I still want to play.
"But there's no other team I've ever wanted to play for. Nobody's had it better than I have playing for the Indianapolis Colts these 14 years. I can't say how thankful and how fortunate I feel to have played here."
This was, he said, "not a separation, kind of a departure from the Colts," a move he's at peace with despite being uncertain about the future. But his first step of his post-Colts career was the right one: He cut short the news conference to say goodbye to the team's support staff and others who work behind the scenes.
Despite the divorce they, like Colts fans and the teammates he twice led to the Super Bowl, get custody of the memories he created.