The five-time NFL MVP is retiring, the Denver Broncos announced Sunday. The team will hold a news conference Monday for Manning to discuss his stepping away from the game after 18 seasons and two Super Bowl victories.
"When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it's easy to see how fortunate we've been to have him on our team," Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway said in a statement. "Peyton was everything that we thought he was and even more -- not only for the football team but in the community. I'm very thankful Peyton chose to play for the Denver Broncos, and I congratulate him on his Hall of Fame career."
Manning called the Broncos on Saturday night to inform them he would be retiring. The Monday news conference had been previously scheduled, but the Broncos didn't know what Manning's decision would be until he made the call.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported Manning's decision, which clears $19 million in cap room for the Broncos.
History will show the quarterback made four Super Bowl trips with two titles, set a mountain of records and earned a place on football's Mount Rushmore. He will retire as the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940) and quarterback wins (186, tied with Brett Favre).
Manning, who played 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer-in-waiting before spinal fusion surgery caused him to miss the 2011 season. He went to the Broncos as a free agent in 2012 and authored the most prolific season of any quarterback in history in 2013. The Broncos made two Super Bowl trips in Manning's final three seasons.
When he embraced New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the Broncos' AFC Championship Game victory in January, NFL Films cameras captured audio of Manning hinting to the coach that the 2015 season would be his last.
"This might be my last rodeo. So it sure has been a pleasure," Manning said.
Manning was a Super Bowl MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection and a seven-time first-team All-Pro. His teams made the playoffs in 15 of his 18 seasons, and he reached the 4,000-yard passing mark in 14 seasons.
In the Broncos' record-setting 2013 season, when they scored a single-season record 606 points -- the first time in league history a team topped 600 -- Manning set single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). It was the second time Manning threw for at least 49 touchdowns (2004 was the first) -- a mark reached only one other time in NFL history (Tom Brady in 2007).
Manning said his final season was the "most unique" of his career. He missed seven starts with a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel. In November, Manning had a cast on his left foot. In December he was running the scout team, and by January he was back in the lineup for one more playoff run.
All the while there were reports, which he strongly denied, debating Manning's skills as a teammate and linking him to human growth hormone. The first report alleged he would refuse to be the backup quarterback. He called that "bulls---." Then Al Jazeera America reported that HGH was allegedly shipped to his wife, Ashley. Manning repeatedly said the report was "garbage."
Manning also is among the athletes cited in a lawsuit filed by a group of women alleging that the University of Tennessee violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" with an attitude of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.
The Tennessee lawsuit alleges that in 1996, when Manning was the Volunteers' quarterback, he placed his genitals on the face of a female athletic trainer while she was examining him for an injury. Manning has denied that he assaulted the trainer, saying instead that he was "mooning" a teammate. Manning was never the subject of a police investigation in the incident.
The trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright, later sued Manning. In documents filed on her behalf in the case, the player whom Manning said he was "mooning," Malcolm Saxon, contradicted Manning's account.
Naughright's lawsuit against Manning was settled in 1997 with the agreement that she leave the university.
Manning's return following his 2011 surgery surprised many in the league. He could barely throw a football 10 yards when he began his recovery, and even after he signed with the Broncos in March 2012, there was enough uncertainty that the team used a second-round pick to select Brock Osweiler in the draft.
"What he's done, man, he's the greatest," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has said. "Some people ... you have to say, 'You remember that guy?' and then you keep saying things. He's Peyton Manning. That's it. You just say Peyton Manning."
Elway promised Manning he would do everything in his power to send him out with a championship. Elway also said he liked "to sign Hall of Famers with chips on their shoulders."
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has worked with great quarterbacks throughout his career. He was the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks coach in 1994, when Steve Young was the starter, and was the Broncos' offensive coordinator from 1995 to 1998 with Elway.
"It was a blessing to coach Peyton Manning. Nobody worked harder at the game and nobody prepared harder than Peyton," Kubiak said in a statement. "His preparation was the best I've ever seen with how he went about his business. There was nothing like his work habits. Each and every week, he did everything he could to get ready to play not only against the defense but even against the coordinator.
"Being with him this season, going through what we went through and accomplishing what we accomplished -- that was special. He and I battled together and along the way we talked about dreaming that it could end the way it ended. And I'll be damned, it did."
Beyond the numbers, the production and the fact that he helped four head coaches reach the Super Bowl, Manning's legacy will be his ability to put the game back into the hands of the quarterback. From the time the Colts made him the first pick of the 1998 draft and then-coach Jim Mora played Manning for every snap of his rookie season, Manning has been the man in charge. He put both the Colts and the Broncos in the annual Super Bowl discussion.
"Peyton Manning is the kind of player, the rare kind of player, where no matter how long you played with him, whether it was a month, a year, 10 years, a week, you're always going to say, 'I played with Peyton Manning,'" Broncos tackle Ryan Harris has said. "You don't say Peyton Manning and I played together or that Peyton Manning was on my team. You say, 'I played with Peyton Manning.' And people could not know anything about you as a player, or what you did, or if you were any good, and they would immediately know you played with one of the best ever and you were always one of the teams that [had] a real shot at the Super Bowl. He's forever."
Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher has likened facing Manning to "playing a computer who knows what you did before, what you're doing now and what you're planning to do later." Manning's recall of defenses, situations and plays -- he once gave detailed descriptions of the scoring plays of every player who caught just one touchdown pass from him -- was the stuff of football legend.
"Peyton, he made me better. He made a lot of guys better," former Broncos and Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "We would have made the NFL probably, but Peyton made us all better. We were more because we played with Peyton Manning. And just think about how many guys can say that."
Manning operated with complete freedom at the line of scrimmage. His 14-year career with the Colts helped football flourish in Indiana, resulting in a new stadium and the Midwestern city's selection to host a Super Bowl.
A sought-after pitchman off the field, Manning put the No. 18 on countless passing hopefuls from coast to coast and will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame's five-year waiting period is over.
As the late Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams said after Manning's Colts repeatedly threw at him: "Man, everybody knows that's the great Peyton Manning ... and Peyton Manning is going to do what Peyton Manning does."