DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after defeating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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He’s gone. I just can’t believe it. Peyton Manning is gone. He’s not dead, but it feels like it since he’s no longer there every Sunday for me to watch. I thought I shouldn’t feel this way because I knew he was retiring. After all, what sane man would stay after throwing nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the regular season? Even with the good game against the New England Patriots and his leadership and ability to limit turnovers was a factor in the Super Bowl last month against the Carolina Panthers, the Denver Broncos defense carried him to a championship ring. It was fitting after so many years in Indianapolis where his defense had the tendency to fold like a fraidy-cat gambler. I know Peyton Manning after years of covering him. I’ve never met him, but football players by nature are easy to read. They are taught to play with emotion, which makes it hard to mask it. Additionally, Manning’s far from camera shy. His interviews flow like a well-written book despite that awkward voice and occasional pause. I knew he was going to retire. He had seen the circus that Brett Favre’s retirement then unretirement had been. I knew he was just taking his time for the last month to see if he was positive that he’d have zero regrets from walking away. I can’t believe I’m not going to hear that voice after the game anymore. Maybe he has one or two regrets, but they don’t outweigh the logical mind that he has. He knows his arm is gone. He knows he hasn’t been fast or mobile in the pocket for about a decade now. He knows that Denver would logically move on from him and his high cap number that he couldn’t possibly justify. He’s seen Ray Lewis and Michael Strahan, fellow all-time greats, walk out on a win. He probably called them for advice and made them promise to keep quiet. Wow…just like them, I’m not going to see him again. I can’t believe it. He’s been in the NFL for 18 years and the poster boy of the game for at least 15-16 of them after the 1999 Colts made the playoffs in just his second year. MVP campaigns, breaking Dan Marino’s single season touchdown record, playoff loses followed by the eventual Super Bowl win over the Bears etc. all of it from Indy to him being injured for all of 2011 to coming to Denver; all of it has been outlined to us via the overhead TVs at the gym that are constantly fixed to ESPN. I can’t believe the story is over. Some would say that the NFL makes Peyton Manning important, I’d argue the opposite. Peyton Manning has been a gift to the league because of who he is. A 6’6 general with a jock body and a nerd brain who can appeal to anyone beyond the “fans” who only like guys who win all the time. Manning, the smartest man to ever go under center and along with John Elway, his now former GM, the only two quarterbacks with the athletic ability and dynamic leadership to take almost nothing for a supporting cast and produce elite results anyway. How many more years until I see a player like that again? I can’t believe he’s gone. Watching Manning throw the ball, with his unique quarterback stance and feeling the oomph come from the powerful spirals through the television was a privilege. It wasn’t the same eye-popping power that Marino or Joe Namath had. It wasn’t like anyone I’d had seen before or since and that’s what made it special. I can’t believe I won’t see him throw it again. Then of course who can forget the pre-snap routine that’s almost like a comedic skit in an alien language. Moving his hands, making signals, firing off audibles so easily it’s as Eminem would recite, “Lose Yourself.” Oh my gosh… I can’t believe I won’t see the act again. Not like his. No one did it like him. Peyton Manning, the ever present topic on NFL forum boards, because while he was great and had his stats, he had only one ring. Then was 1-1 and people said he choked despite New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton basically saying, “I’m terrified of you, Mr. Manning. So terrified I’m going to do an onside kick in the Super Bowl because I can’t trust my defense to keep you from kicking my butt,” and that was the biggest difference of the game. Will I ever see such respect ever again? I can’t believe those trolls were so ignorant of his greatness. Or how about earlier that same year where the Patriots have a 4th and 2 with 1:28 left to play and Head Coach Bill Belichick had the honesty to admit his defense couldn’t tie Manning’s shoes let alone stop him since Manning, the genius analyst, had figured out the defense by that point. I can’t believe I’m never going to see that again. The duels between him and his friend Tom Brady. Granted, they were rivals, but the media wished they hated each other just to make the promos for the games juicier. It didn’t matter. Two friends couldn’t have gone at each other harder. They made each other better and the NFL could create a DVD set of all their duels and sell that as a separate product. I’d buy it too. I’m never going to see Manning vs. Brady again. I really can’t believe that. Manning endeared himself to me like a lot of people because behind that awkward voice, the Frankenstein forehead, and underneath that massive exterior he called a body, there was a good man who I’d love to have dinner with. There was a family man with twins and a wife he’s loved since college. There is a trust there that people gravitate to and a shrewd businessman who owns and operates his own Papa John’s franchise. The commercial king. Why? Because who he is, the person he is, belongs on TV. Peyton Manning, the man who was so prepared that he had binders of questions for the Denver Broncos when they courted him three years ago. Peyton Manning, the family man who was the biggest cheerleader for his younger brother Eli in both of his Super Bowl wins. Peyton Manning, the general who never called out his teammates no matter how much they failed him. Peyton Manning who despite his poor season, is a major reason this Broncos team won the Super Bowl. As cliché and corny as it sounds, in this case it’s definitely true that the power of Peyton Manning transcends the team. His teammates knew that even if he struggled, if there is one man to believe in to find out how to turn back Father Time even just one year, it would be Peyton Manning. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe he lost to Father Time. I still can’t believe it. Peyton Manning, the man so virtuous that literally no one beyond the complete naive or biased thought was guilty when the HGH accusations came out. What’s more impressive is how he didn’t let it affect the locker room. Nothing did. Injuries no. Being a “backup” a title that would make a lot of veterans throw fits that make terrible two-year olds look like grown-ups. Nah, not Peyton Manning. He put the team first in every aspect and nothing was going to affect him. How many men will I ever see that can compare to him in class? I can’t believe that he won’t be that role model anymore on the field. I knew it was coming and yet now that it’s here, I feel morose, slightly empty and I think a stormy cloud is over my head. Peyton Manning is gone and just like a death, I couldn’t process it until it happened. Peyton Manning being gone is something I couldn’t mentally simulate and feel. I couldn’t prepare myself for it even if I had a whole year to know it was coming. It had to happen and I had to experience it just like I’m sure a lot of fans are. I don’t want Peyton Manning gone. I don’t want to believe he’s gone, so I can’t believe he’s gone. I don’t want the NFL to be without Peyton Manning like I don’t want my peanut butter without jelly. But he’s gone and all of us will have to move on and get used to the 6’6 void in our Sunday lives. But until I’m used to it, I’ll have the same phrase going through my head. Peyton Manning has retired and I just can’t believe it.

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