Wednesday, March 8, 2012, the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning. He had been their quarterback for 14 years, compiling records that have made him one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Along the way he has led the Colts to unprecedented success as a sports franchise. His quirky sense of humor and his ability to make fun of himself made him an engaging and highly successful pitchman in advertising. His dedication to preparation made him a quarterback who seemed up to every challenge. His ability to read a defense and to call an audible made him a fearsome offensive weapon on the playing field.
Peyton was released on the final day of a contract, thereby freeing the Colts from a $25 million bonus. It also paves the way for Andrew Luck to move quickly into his role as the signal-calling heir apparent of Indianapolis. It gives the Colts a lot of dollars to rebuild a team after an historically abysmal season; the only one in the last decade and a half that Peyton was not under center.
His confidence was sometimes mistaken for cockiness, but a true sense of humility marks Peyton Manning’s place in history. ESPN noted that there was not a hint of bitterness over the lost $25 million. It was obvious as Peyton bit back the tears that leaving Indianapolis was not his desire or decision, but he was exceedingly gracious towards Jim Irsay even in that admission. Last year Irsay, after putting the franchise tag on Manning and offering him a contract in excess of $150, was met with wise counsel from Manning himself. Manning would not sign such a contract because he knew that it was not really in the best interests of his team. And injury could end his career and yet bankrupt the team for a decade. Instead he opted for one year and the abovementioned bonus. It seems that Peyton knew both his humanity and his impact, and did not want to be a source of his team’s failure.
Speculators believe Peyton will end up some place like Miami, leading the Dolphins. Wherever he goes, Peyton has earned his place in the pantheon of leadership for the fans of Indianapolis and the deep respect of those who understand the importance of wise and sacrificial leadership.
Thank you, Peyton.