End of the Road

It’s just a room, like any other room. There are walls, tables and chairs. There is a clock on the wall, ticking.

One line of chairs and tables faces another line of tables and chairs. Behind this line is a temporary wall. That wall is adorned with a few advertisements, supporters.

That temporary wall also has a logo – an NFL logo. It is just one of 32. It is the logo of the Denver Broncos. It’s a Monday afternoon in the off-season. A time when our football nation grasps at any little story, to give them something to hold onto, to help them make it to fall. But, today’s story would be different – it wasn’t small, it wasn’t just something to get us by. This was bigger than any player getting traded, or coach getting fired.

Peyton Manning was about to announce that he is no longer a player in the NFL.

Peyton sits off to the left, as Bronco personnel surround him. As if, hoping to feel one last buzz, one last shimmer of greatness. Peyton looks out and sees his family. The crowd of reporters and media personnel murmurs among themselves. And, though it will be a half-year before real football is played on the gridiron again, free agency kicks off the new football year on Wednesday. It might as well be 2017.

It’s high noon in New Orleans.

It’s also September 1991 – Peyton – a sophomore, wearing number 14 – is the starting quarterback for Isidore Newman High School. He’s comforted every time he looks out wide and sees his brother, Cooper – a senior wearing number 18 – playing receiver.

End of the Road

It’s Monday – Joe Ellis, president of the Denver Broncos, is at the podium, telling the crowd that, “Peyton Manning has made our team, organization and community better.”

It’s September 1992 – Manning takes the field wearing number 18 in honor of his brother Cooper – who over the off-season was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and would never suit up for the University of Mississippi.

It’s Monday – John Elway – Broncos current GM, and former quarterback – is at the podium. Elway led the Broncos to two Superbowl victories in his playing days, and is also in the Hall of Fame. Elway is telling the crowd that Manning is the only guy that can say he’s done everything that can be done in the NFL.

It’s February 2007 – Manning holds the Lombardi Trophy over his head, having led the Colts to victory in Superbowl XLI.

It’s January 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014 – Manning is named the league’s MVP.

It’s October 2014 – Manning lofts a short pass into the front corner of the end zone to Demaryius Thomas to become the all-time leader with 509 touchdown passes.

End of the Road

It’s November 2015 – Manning, hobbled by injury, breaks the NFL all-time passing yards mark at 71,840.

It’s Monday – Peyton is telling the world, “I want to thank the people of New Orleans and South Louisiana. New Orleans is my hometown and of course they support their own team, the Saints, but they also support their own and that city and state have backed me from the start.”

It’s November 1993 – Peyton walks off the field for the last time as a Greenie. It would be Newman’s head coach, Tony Reginelli, last game as well – he would retire after 26 seasons. Manning would be named Gatorade Player of the Year, along with countless other rewards.

It’s March 2012 – Peyton is standing at another podium. A different temporary wall stands behind him, adorned with advertisements. That wall also has a logo – an NFL logo. It is just one of 32. It is the logo of the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton says, "I've been a Colt for almost all my adult life. But I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL.”

It’s October 2013 – Manning is standing on the field leading his team, but he is no longer a Colt. He is a Bronco. The enemy. Manning lights up Lucas Oil Stadium, like he has done many times before. But Andrew Luck, his predecessor and the Colts future, answers the call, and Peyton walks off the field without victory.

End of the Road

It’s September 1982 – Archie Manning is traded by the Saints to the Houston Oilers. Olivia and the boys would stay behind in New Orleans.

It’s Monday – Peyton is holding off tears, “There is no way to measure or properly express what a family like mine can mean. Mom, Dad, Cooper, Eli, extended family, you are the best. Ashley, your support is as potent a motivator as any man can have. Ashley's and my kids, Marshall and Mosley, have only been around for a couple of years but they have changed my life forever.”

It’s March 1986 – Peyton, 10 years old, is throwing football with his older brother, Cooper, 12, and his younger brother, Eli, 5, in the yard of their Garden District home.

It’s September 2006 – Peyton stands across the field looking at yet another competitor, but this time it’s the New York Giants led by his brother Eli. Peyton’s Colts go on to beat the Giants, 26-21. Peyton would later tell reporters, “I’m proud to be his brother.”

It’s Superbowl Sunday 2016 – Peyton Manning stands on a podium above the crowd. He is the only quarterback to win the Superbowl with two different teams. Confetti streams down, like happy tears, as the Broncos and Manning family celebrate.

It’s Monday – Manning stands on another podium, holding off more tears. “There’s a scripture reading, 2 Timothy 4:7: ‘I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ Well, I’ve fought a good fight. I’ve finished my football race and after 18 years, it’s time.”

“God bless all of you and God bless football.”

End of the Road



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