Peyton Manning jokes about impending decision but offers no insight

March 2, 2016, 11:01 PM

— -- JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Peyton Manning knew the question about his future was hanging out there, so he figured he'd address it before he began his speech on leadership at the Florida Forum on Wednesday night.

As soon as the applause died down from his introduction, Manning somberly looked out at the audience and drew a deep breath.

"Many of you have probably heard that I have a significant announcement to make, so I thought I'd go ahead and make it with all of you here tonight," Manning said. "Papa John's is offering 50 percent off tonight through Friday.

"I'm sure that was the response you were looking for."

That was the only time on Wednesday night that Manning even hinted at whether he's going to retire after an 18-year career, a decision he must make by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday because his $19 million base salary for 2016 would be guaranteed the following day.

Manning, who won his second Super Bowl title in February, touched on a variety of other topics during his 33-minute speech at The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, including the Nationwide insurance jingle, how he dealt with a foot injury in 2015, and how he's revered in Omaha, Nebraska.

Manning missed seven starts in 2015 because of a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel. The NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, he finished with nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions last season, the first time he has had more interceptions than touchdown passes in a season since his rookie year in 1998.

Manning said sitting out and rehabbing his foot was a tough situation to endure. He didn't travel with the team for the first few road games, and when doctors said it wasn't safe for him to be on the sideline at home games because his foot was in a cast, he suffered in silence watching the games in the Broncos' locker room.

"I had the TV on mute so I wouldn't be distracted by what the announcers were saying," Manning said. "It was absolutely excruciating. I could hear the roar of the crowd, and there was nothing I could do except wait and continue to work to try and get healthy."

The Broncos went 5-2 with Brock Osweiler starting, but Osweiler was benched in the third quarter of the regular-season finale against San Diego. Manning rallied the Broncos to a victory and said he knew he had to be a different quarterback than he had been for most of his career.

"I was keenly aware of my strengths but also of my physical limitations," he said. "By the time my injuries caught up to me, I had to rely on my attitude.

"In the past, I could throw a certain pass with my eyes closed because I knew exactly who was going to be open and where they were going to be based on that defensive coverage. But that was not a given anymore. This was a different system and, together with my physical limitations, I had to shift my emphasis to being a good teammate in an entirely different way."

Manning started the Broncos' three playoff games and was essentially a game manager while the defense carried the team to the Super Bowl 50 title.

Manning also lightheartedly touched on how he can't seem to get away from the Nationwide insurance jingle.

"It's taken on a little bit of a life of its own, and people come up to me now and they don't speak to me, they jingle to me," he said. "At dinner the other night the waitress came up and said, 'What would you like to eat?'"

Then there's Omaha, the word he became famous for calling out before the snap at the line of scrimmage. He said it was already in place when he arrived in Denver in 2012 and that it's a trigger word to let the offensive linemen know the play clock is running down and the ball needs to be snapped quickly.

Television microphones caught him yelling the word and it, too, has taken on a life of its own. It has also made Manning a folk hero in Nebraska.

"I have been given two awards in Omaha by the chamber of commerce," Manning said. "I'm a big hit in Omaha.

"It's amazing how many solicitations and suggestions I've received for alternative words. 'Can you plug my website?' I'm surprised that the marketing people haven't come and said, 'Can you get this sponsor into your snap count?'"

Manning wouldn't address whether he has decided to retire or play another season, in Denver or elsewhere, and he also said he hasn't given any thought to what he would do once he does retire.

"It's hard to say," Manning said. "I think the one reason I've enjoyed my current job so much is I've been all in on it. I have not thought much about anything else beside the job that I was currently employed to do.

"I understand we're closer to that point in time now, but I felt like I owed it to the teams that I played for, I owed it to my teammates, my coaches, to the fans, that I was 100 percent all in on this current job. When that stops, then I'll kind of move to Plan B."