DENVER(AFP) - Peyton Manning made an emotional farewell after 18 years to the US National Football League on Monday, a day after the iconic quarterback's retirement from American football was announced by the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
Manning made his first public comments since the retirement announcement at the Broncos team headquarters before an invitation-only group of teammates, family and friends.
"When someone thoroughly exhausts an experience, you don't have to ask if they will miss it," Manning said. "I revere the game. I love football. You don't have to worry if I'll miss it. Absolutely I will."
The 39-year-old passer became the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history last month after guiding Denver past the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50, his final game.
"It was extremely gratifying to finish with a world championship," Manning said. "It was a great day in San Francisco, one I'll always cherish." It was his second NFL crown, having also taken the title in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts, the club for which he played from 1998 to 2011.
Manning was the NFL's top pitchman and a favourite product spokesman for such items as cars, pizza and insurance. He gave no hint about what's next but it's likely to be near the sport he so dearly loves, perhaps as a television analyst or even in the coaching ranks.
"I'm totally convinced the end of my football career is the beginning of me going on to do something else," Manning said. "I haven't ruled anything out. I've made no decisions."
Manning sniffled and gathered himself as he began to speak, his voice cracking with emotion as he fought back tears.
"I've fought a good fight, I've come to the end of my race and it's time after 18 years," Manning said. "I thought about it a lot and it was just the right time."
Manning leaves American football as the all-time leader in passing yardage with 71,940, passing touchdowns with 539 and matched the all-time record of Brett Favre with 186 wins as a quarterback.
In the 2013 season, Manning set one-season NFL records with 55 passing touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards and the team produced a one-season record 606 points.
"If there's a list of accomplishments to achieve greatness, you have checked every box," Broncos chief executive Joe Ellis told Manning.
Manning's charisma and talent helped lure talent to the Broncos that might not otherwise have come to Denver.
"That's why we were able to put this team together - because so many people wanted to play alongside Peyton Manning," said John Elway, Broncos general manager and the only other quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his final NFL game. "We couldn't have done it without him."
Manning became famous for his ability to scan a defensive scheme and change his own plans as needed to pick apart opponents within only a few seconds, the benefits of his intensive hours of film study on rival defenders.
"I'll miss figuring out blitzes," Manning said. "Other teams might have more talent but no one could out-prepare me."
There was no doubt Manning changed the game, especially in the pre-snap signal calling, where he became famous for calling out "Omaha", an offensive scheme codeword named for a Nebraska city that Manning also used to close his news conference.
"He did revolutionize the game with what he was able to do pre-snap," Elway said. "He gotten every ounce out of the ability he has."
"He changed how the quarterback position is played," said his former University of Tennessee coach, Phillip Fulmer. "He's a true Tennessee legend."
Manning said he "cherished his time" at Tennessee and of his first NFL seasons with Indianapolis noted: "You can't fathom how much I enjoyed my 14 years there."
Watched by father Archie and brother Eli, both also NFL quarterbacks, Manning thanked them and his Broncos teammates "for what you have done for this old quarterback. I couldn't have made a better decision than coming out to Denver these past four years".