Peyton Manning Says Goodbye To Indianapolis

After 14 seasons, Peyton Manning will no longer be the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. The team released Manning from his contract Wednesday. Manning was out all of last season with a neck injury.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. The departure of Dennis Kucinich removes an iconic figure from Congress, but with all due respect, that is nothing compared to the change people are facing in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback, was released after 14 years and a Super Bowl title. His absence last season, due to injury, only underlined Manning's value. The team collapsed without him, had an appalling season.

Yesterday though, the Colts let him go rather than make a big contract payment. Fans braced for the news during lunch hour, including at the Indianapolis Colts Grill.

SCOTT MOSSBARGER: And we put the sound on the press conference and there was dead was silence.

INSKEEP: Scott Mossbarger is manager at the restaurant. He says customers crowded into watch Manning say goodbye.

MOSSBARGER: And then after he was done, everybody gave him a round of applause inside the restaurant, and we put some music on after the press conference to lighten the mood a little bit.

INSKEEP: Colts fans do have good reason to be excited about the future. The Colts are now free to draft a rookie quarterback who is sometimes called the best prospect since Peyton Manning. And Manning himself will seek employment from another team. NPR's Mike Pesca lends some prospective to an NFL personnel matter that's widely being described as the end of a glorious era.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The Greek lyric poet Pindar wrote of the Elysian fields and an afterlife where men, swift in strength and supreme in wisdom, spend their days on the island of the blessed. We too speak of fields of glory for our modern generals once their time with the current army has come to pass. We call this status not Elysium, but finding an AFC East team with some salary cap room.

Anyway, yesterday, two men in somber suits wept over their shared predicament. First, Colts owner Jim Irsay.

JIM IRSAY: You know growing up together in the organization, you know, when a 37-year-old owner meets a 22-year-old player coming out of Tennessee, and the dreams that we had, and the experience, are just, you know, beyond my imagination.

PESCA: Next was Peyton Manning's turn to choke back tears.

PEYTON MANNING: It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team.

PESCA: Following the press conference, pundits blitzed the airwaves to sing the praises of Peyton. ESPN has recently hired former Colts general manager, Bill Polian, who was a bit choked up by the affair himself.

BILL POLIAN: I think for all of us around the country, watching that, wherever we might have been, it was extremely emotional because it was the end of a glorious era.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSREEL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hundreds of thousands line the sidewalks, and among them, many in tears. Humanitarian and champion of democracy, he had won the hearts of millions, and now we...

PESCA: Sorry, that was an old newsreel talking about FDR, not Peyton Manning. But such was the tone of the flood of coverage of this announcement. ESPN's NFL reporter Adam Shefter, in detailing the next steps, sounded a little like a funeral director laying out instructions to the bereaved.

ADAM SHEFTER: Its official, bob, a short time ago the Colts announced the unthinkable, that they officially had released Peyton Manning. And will happen is his name will show up on the waiver wire about four o'clock when it goes out to NFL teams. And once that happens, let the bidding begin.

PESCA: Unthinkable, except for the fact that this eventuality was all anyone in the NFL has been talking about since the Super Bowl. In the Indianapolis Star, the headline for this set of events was Shared Pain For Manning, Irsay, and a City.

Just as factual would have been Wealthy Boss Denies Historically Well Compensated Employee Future Riches. Peyton Manning has made about $175 million as a Colt. His endorsements are worth about $15 million a year. He was to be paid around $35 million this year, after missing all of last season with a neck injury, this with the Colts lined up to draft Andrew Luck, the best quarterback in college.

While Colts fans surely do feel a loss, the split between player and team was mutual, and quite likely mutually beneficial. Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive now with the National Football Post, doesn't discount the emotions, but thinks some optimism is in order.

ANDREW BRANDT: Manning thinks he can get a similar financial situation somewhere else with a fresh start. Irsay thinks he's got the replacement at a fraction of the cost.

PESCA: Yesterday afternoon, the media played the symphony of Peyton Manning as if the sheet music called for a crescendo. Really, it was just a rest between measures. Andrew Brandt says, in the NFL, moments of repose take less time than a Peyton Manning led 4th quarter drive.

BRANDT: You know, you have people leave a press conference, go back to their desk and what's on their to do list?

PESCA: For the Colts, it's build one franchise; and for Manning, it's jumpstart another.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is definitely NPR News.

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