INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning took one more victory lap around Indianapolis on Friday.
It’s not likely to be his last.
Less than two weeks after announcing his retirement in Denver, the record-breaking quarterback returned to his first NFL home to reminisce, thank supporters and receive a fitting send-off from the team he first played for. Colts owner Jim Irsay said Manning’s No. 18 jersey will be retired and the team will erect a statue of him at Lucas Oil Stadium in honour of the man who did a lot more than win games in Indy.
"When I got here, it was basketball, basketball, basketball and it was car racing, car racing, car racing. Football was probably in the third place and that’s no longer the case. It’s a football town," Manning said. "It was fun to be a part of that transformation."
For Manning, this was more like a second trip down memory lane.
He recounted tales of incredible comebacks and bitter disappointments, former teammates and the bonds they formed, and he acknowledged how grateful he was that the city embraced him from the day he arrived.
A smattering of fans — some dressed in the Colts’ blue-and-white, other dressed in Denver’s orange and blue — stood outside the front gate of the team’s complex.
Inside, it was emotional.
At one point, Manning’s voice cracked, though he drew a lot more laughter, including a roar after remembering Jim Mora’s infamous "playoffs" rant was actually directed at him after he threw four interceptions against the 49ers.
It was a stark contrast to the last time Manning and Irsay stood together inside the same room in March 2012. Back then, both shed tears during as Irsay announced the parting of ways to make room for Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck.
This time, Irsay and Manning laughed and joked as they told stories, and Manning flew into town on Irsay’s personal plane one more time. Before speaking with reporters, Manning met with Luck and others in the team complex.
"It was always strange to watch 18 out there without a horseshoe on his helmet, and it wasn’t always easy for us," Irsay said as a slideshow of Manning played on two screens behind the podium. "I think I speak for all Colts fans. We feel like he’s ours."
Manning did wear the horseshoe, in the form of a lapel pin on his dark sport coat, and explained how he will always consider himself a Colt even though he retired officially with the Broncos.
During his 14 seasons with the Colts, he won four of his record five MVP Awards, led the Colts to two Super Bowls and delivered the first world championship in city history following the 2006 season. He added his second Super Bowl title last month as the Broncos beat Carolina.
His personality, success and off-the-field contributions are widely credited with helping to generate public support for building Lucas Oil Stadium, which hosted the Super Bowl in February 2012. And through his Peyback Foundation, Manning hosted high school football games at the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium, provided Thanksgiving meals for low-income families and held Christmas parties for children in need.
He also teamed up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and reached out to help American service members and ordinary citizens who were enduring trying times.
Manning also acknowledged again that one of the best rewards he ever received came when an Indianapolis hospital renamed the children’s wing the Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.
Each spring, even after he joined the Broncos, Manning returned to Indy to host an A-list fundraiser that included auctioning off prized possessions. Among the items were an autograph from Mother Teresa, a clipping from a contract signed by Marilyn Monroe, an autographed photo of former American presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon and baseballs signed by Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
"On the field, I just can’t say enough about what he has meant to this franchise, to this city and state," Irsay said. "You just run out of words."
Manning struggled to express his own emotions.
"I can’t tell you how special this news is to me," he said after Irsay’s announcement.
Still to be determined is when Manning will be inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor and a possible 10-year reunion of the Colts’ Super Bowl title team.
Most of all, Manning was just happy to be back home.
"That was a tough emotional day four years ago. We shed some tears that day," Manning said. "But it felt comfortable coming back here. It felt right."