As owner Jim Irsay verbally pulled the sheet over Peyton Mannings career as a Colt on Wednesday, Manning stood to his right and a step behind him.
Around here, for better than a decade, Mannings been a punchline, a punching bag, a nemesis and finally and most appropriately appreciated.
Appreciated the way Magic Johnson ultimately became appreciated. Appreciated because his excellence, his passion and the simple presence of his team made it possible for people here to have competitive emotions tapped that otherwise wouldnt have been.
Without Manning, the Patriots excellence would not have been brought into such clear relief. Without Manning as a foil, Tom Bradys career would not have had the measuring stick thats helped make his place in NFL history so clear.
Manning helped make the Patriots what they are. Manning helped make Brady what he is.
The Patriots-Colts rivalry is over.
And lets be honest about this too the days of Peyton Manning as a transcendent NFL quarterback are most likely over as well. Hes 36. Hes had four neck surgeries in a year.
Hes going to be the target of the most impassioned chase for a free-agent player the NFL has ever seen. But nobody not the Dolphins, Jets, Redskins, Seahawks, Cardinals or whoever is going to sign PEYTON MANNING. They will sign the guy who used to be the best quarterback in football, who still can play his position as well as anyone on some Sundays (and Mondays or Thursdays). But it wont be the same player who ran an offense that was as comfortable to him as sliding behind the wheel of a car hed driven 100,000 miles.
Hell be getting used to a new coaching staff, new teammates, a new city and the demands on his time as franchise saviorhood ornament. All at the age of 36 with the mobility loss that comes with being 36 and, perhaps, the reduced arm strength that comes with having had those operations.
I dont doubt for a second that there will be some games when Manning is outstanding, where he takes over completely and puts up Manning-like numbers. But there will be games when he walks off the field and people say, Is that all there is? Is that all thats left?
I dont want to retire, Manning said through a crooked smile on Wednesday.
He shouldnt. And we should be glad of that. He deserves and will get the chance to write the final chapters of his NFL career. And if he lands in the AFC East with the Jets or Dolphins, hell be competitively detested around here again. But with a different flavor. Bitterness about the glory he and the Colts got will be reduced, replaced by that appreciation of what he was not just to Indy and the NFL but to New England.
But the climax of the book is over. This is the epilogue.