Colts, Manning truly are victims of circumstance

"It's a difficult day here of shared pain," the owner of the Indianapolis Colts began. And then Jim Irsay confirmed his franchise's nightmare scenario, that Peyton Manning would be playing quarterback for someone else.

"The good times we've had together, the laughs we've shared together ..."

That's what Irsay was saying when his voice wavered.

"This town and this team mean so much to me ... I do love it here ... I haven't thought about where I'll play, but I have thought a lot about where I've been ..."

That's what Manning was saying when his voice trembled.

And then again:

"As I go, I go with just a few words left to say. A few words addressed to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback."

It was not the day for second guesses. That will come later, if the new quarterback struggles and a new Colts day doesn't dawn, while another team thrives with Manning's passes.

Then this decision might shove aside all the victories that came before, and be the ugly centerpiece of Irsay's legacy. The man who let Peyton Manning leave town, way too soon.

Wednesday was for shaky emotions and honest anguish, and two sides that landed together in a trap, with no available exit to avoid broken hearts. Sport divorces rarely happen this amicably. So often there are harsh words and hard feelings, and dignity crumbles. In the end, no one looks honorable.

Wednesday in Indianapolis, everyone did.

"A special place and special time," Irsay said of a suddenly bygone age. "There will be no other Peyton Manning."

Nobody will be wearing No. 18 again, either, he added. At least on the field. In the stands, zillions of Hoosiers have No. 18 jerseys that are now either keepsakes or painful reminders to be put in the closet.

"I've been a Colt almost all of my adult life. But I guess in life and in sports we all know that nothing lasts forever," Manning said. "I'll always be a Colt. That will never change."

When his voice quivered again as he talked of thanking the equipment men, you knew this was a unique superstar, and a unique story.

Who was the bad guy then? The good-for-nothing louse who led to this teary day?

A power-hungry gang called Circumstances. They were mentioned a lot.

"We both wanted to be together," Irsay said, adding that trying to find a solution had been "tearing at our hearts."

But then there were Circumstances. Massive rebuilding to be done, a salary cap to be met, a quarterback showing wear.

"These circumstances are something that neither one of us could have imagined a couple of years ago, or even a year ago.

"In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome."

Manning thought so, too.

"Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL."

Circumstances. They barged into the room whenever Irsay and Manning met, trying to find a way out.

"Those circumstances (were) the third guy in the talks with us all the time," Manning said. "It wasn't his decision, it wasn't my decision. Circumstances kind of dictated that. It's not what either of us wanted, but it's just kind of the way it worked out to be."

This is the way the Manning era ends, not with a bang but some sniffles. Alas, if they couldn't stay together, at least they could part with majesty.

Irsay has a shattered franchise to revive and Manning a career to restart. He said his arm is coming along fine, so no need to ask if he'll be back, somewhere.

"I don't want to retire," he said. "Nobody loves their job more than I do."

The press conference ended. Manning gave a thumb's up as he left, headed off to say goodbye to the staff; the little people who shared his dynasty — and then on to the rest of his life. A classy day for all involved, if not a happy one.

This article was written by Mike Lopresti and appeared in USA Today.

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