A statue, a retired jersey and so many memories for Peyton Manning

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Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay pose for a photo with his retired #18 jersey

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 18, 2016) -- At the end of Friday’s stroll down memory lane shared by Jim Irsay and his "forever quarterback" sits a Peyton Manning statue that one day will welcome fans to Lucas Oil Stadium and one less jersey number available to the Indianapolis Colts.

That was the substantive news to come out of a press conference remembering Manning’s historic 14-year career with a franchise whose future was forever altered when it made him the first over pick in the 1998 draft.

“This is the team I wanted to play for,’’ Manning said. “I was glad y’all drafted me and I’ll always be a Colt.

“I can’t tell you how special this news is to me.’’

First, the statue.

Irsay revealed its construction soon will begin and be prominently situated outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, the ritzy building whose creation was so boosted by Manning’s presence and influence. It’s uncertain whether the statue will be completed in time for the upcoming season.

“It will be a destination spot for all our fans . . . just like Jim Morrison’s grave,’’ Irsay said.

That drew laughter from the crowd, but the point was clear.

“It’s not too often you build statues of people, particularly in their lifetime,’’ Irsay said. “So much deserving.’’

Next, the No. 18 jersey no one has worn since Manning last was a member of the Colts – we were here March 7, 2012 for his emotional presser when the team released him – and no one will pull on in years to come.

“You’re the eighth retired jersey for the Colts,’’ Irsay said, glancing at Manning. “It’ll never be worn again.’’

That jersey, he added, is “proudly sitting right next to No. 19 (John Unitas), who I know you have so much affection for.’’

The iconic, so-familiar retired jerseys of Manning and Unitas are joined by those of Gino Marchetti (89), Art Donovan (70), Raymond Berry (82), Jim Parker (77), Lenny Moore (24) and Buddy Young (22).

Unitas, Marchetti, Donovan, Berry, Parker and Moore are among Colts with busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Manning will join them as a first-ballot inductee in five years, as a member of the Class of 2021.

In one of his “whereas’’ items in a long “Declaration,’’ Irsay insisted “the likes of him will never be seen again.’’

“I just can’t say enough for what he has meant to this franchise, to this city and state,’’ he added. “You simply run out of words thinking about how much No. 18 means to us.’’

The substantive news out of the way, the memories flowed. Few are better at rehashing the past than Peyton Manning.

He recalled his first NFL pass, a 48-yard touchdown to Marvin Harrison in the 1998 preseason opener at Seattle.

“I was thinking, ‘This NFL is easy. You just through a short pass to Marvin Harrison and he runs for touchdowns,’’’ Manning said. “Which is pretty much what he did the entire time he and I played together.’’

Manning holds all-time NFL records with 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns. His 200 overall victories are most in league history. He’s the NFL’s only five-time MVP and a two-time Super Bowl winner. Manning and Harrison combined for 114 touchdowns, most ever by a quarterback-receiver tandem.

“Most of my records will be broken,’’ Manning said. “I don’t believe that record that me and Marvin have of throwing for the most touchdowns will ever be broken.’’

He mentioned the impossible comeback at Tampa in 2003 (winning 38-35 in overtime after trailing 35-14 with 5 minutes to play in regulation), the exorcising win over New England in the 2006 AFC Championship (after trailing 21-6 at the half), winning 23-20 in overtime in snowy Denver in 2002 behind a pair of 50-yard field goals by Mike Vanderjagt and delivering Reggie Wayne’s first touchdown catch, a tipped pass at Houston in 2002.

“I remember the old AFC East, right?’’ he said. “The original AFC East. Head coaches that year were Jim Mora, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Pete Carroll.

“I remember the RCA Dome and how loud it used to be and watching (Robert) Mathis and (Dwight) Freeney speed up the field and Bob Sanders torpedo some guy right in the back. I remember some deep communication philosophy talks with Howard Mudd on protection.’’

So it went.

Fourteen years of indelible memories. One Super Bowl, and a second appearance. Six AFC South titles and 11 playoff appearances. A decade of the 2000 that resulted in more victories (115) than any team in league history. A league-record seven consecutive seasons with at least 12 victories.

Manning officially retired March 7 as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Since then, he’s taken time to reflect.

“This past week-and-a-half,’’ he said, “it’s been a lot of fun communicating, getting a lot of texts, voice mails.

“Boy, it really means a lot to me, so to be back here and to see some of the folks face-to-face and be here on the day of this extremely special announcement for me, I can’t tell you how honored and how humbled I am.’’

Friday’s event essentially completed the circle for Manning. It was his first time back at the Colts’ complex since that stirring day in March 2012.

“That was a tough, emotional day four years ago. But I’m glad to be back,’’ Manning said.

“It certainly felt comfortable coming here. It felt right.’’

 

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