- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Thank you, Peyton Manning.
This might be the beginning of something better. Might be the end of everything good. But before we slog into what happens next, where you'll go, what you'll do, we owe you a thank you for what you've done and who you've been.
So thank you, Peyton Manning, for never showing up in the VIP section of Cheerleaders, overserved and under-mannered.
Thank you for never ending up on Court TV, or Page Six or with parts of somebody's nose on your knuckles.
It was trendy to make fun of your "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs" and your 1950s haircut but many of us secretly admired it.
You played a violent game and yet somehow held on to that southern gentility. In the middle of the worst time of your life, you took the time to write a hand-written note of sympathy last week to Fox's Chris Myers upon the death of his son.
Thank you for watching more film than Martin Scorsese. Thank you for always being the last one to go home at night, for knowing more about what defenses were going to do than some of the players on those defenses themselves.
You came to a nowhere franchise and made it Somewhere. Greatness poured out of your fingers because you put in the hours and the study and the pain to let it. Two Super Bowls, four NFL MVPs, 11 Pro Bowls, 11 playoff seasons and more records than a used CD store.
That Super Bowl win was classic you. Every day that whole week, you made your center, Jeff Saturday, spend an extra 15 minutes snapping you balls you'd soaked in a bucket of water. "It might rain," you said. So when it did, and Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman looked like he was throwing greased watermelons, you looked like you were throwing rocks.
Fourteen years in the league and the worst we can say about you is that you made a lot of castor-oil faces and your helmet left funny marks and one time you laid into your "idiot kicker." Fourteen years and you didn't sext anything, wreck anything or deck anybody.
You were a 10,000-watt bulb in a small city, and yet you never seemed to tire of it. If you did, you rarely showed it. There's a fan website -- peytonmanning18.com/encounters.html -- where everyday people tell how you were with them. It's hard to find a rotten one.
"Peyton was so nice and down to earth," one wrote. "He was just as polite and nice as I've always heard," wrote another. "He was getting ready to leave and wanted to take a picture with me and thank me for driving his golf cart," said a third. It's a lousy site if you're a cynic.
I have no idea how much time and money you have to give to a hospital to have it renamed in your honor, but they did that for you in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent. Says a lot.
How many times can one man change an entire city? Well, without you there's probably no Lucas Oil Stadium. Without Lucas Oil Stadium, there's no Super Bowl this year in Indy. Without the Super Bowl, there's no brand-new, drop-dead gorgeous JW Marriott downtown. Forbes figures you improved the Colts' value by $233 million. Compared to that, $28 million to keep you doesn't seem like much, does it?
Thank you for showing up at podiums in your shoulder pads some nights because you knew some of us had early deadlines. Thank you for making us laugh in all those ads. If there's ever been a funnier jock on "Saturday Night Live," I'll keep a ham in my pants.
Thank you for showing up to work every day, every week, season after season. You started 208 straight games -- through purple thumbs and black eyes and stomach flus that left you green. You get paid either way, so thanks.
Hell, you even tipped great. The other night, in North Carolina, you left an extra $200 on a $740 check that already had an 18 percent tip in it. According to my abacus, that's 100 percent class.
Lastly, thank you for the way you left. Always thought you'd go out as a Colt, and go out the way you wanted, but if it had to end this way, "I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback" is as good an exit line as I've heard. You made it sound like it was an elected position, an honor, a job where you knew people were depending on you. You were right.
You came to the line and changed the play 1,000 times, but you never changed your team, your city, your fans. Jim Irsay did all that for you Wednesday.
That would've gone down most guys' throats like a porcupine, but you took it and you smiled and you stood there with your arm around Irsay like he wasn't the one dumping you, like there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
That's grace. You had it in the huddle and you had it in the pocket and you had it at the end.
So thank you, Peyton Manning. And bravo. You wore the horseshoe, but it was us who got lucky.
19hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne