(Reuters) - Peyton Manning ushered in the NFL’s wide-open era of high-scoring offenses and pass-happy game plans and retired on Monday having changed the way quarterbacks play the sport while forging a Hall of Fame career.
Manning shrugged at the long-held notion that passing had to be associated with risk and his uncanny ability to read defenses and audible the perfect response with his famous “Omaha” call helped him rack up statistics once considered unthinkable.
“I studied hard at the game and prepared hard,” Manning, who spent his 18-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, said at his retirement news conference.
“A coach told me I could process a lot of information and make really fast decisions. He said maybe that’s not totally normal. Maybe that allowed coaches to put a lot of things on my plate and trust me.”
Manning played his final four seasons in Denver but his prime came during 14 years he spent in Indianapolis where he led the Colts to two Super Bowls berths, winning the big game in the 2006 campaign.
Born in New Orleans, Manning is the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, and the older brother of New York Giants QB Eli Manning.
Stoked by a competitive fire, Manning seemed destined to be a great quarterback. Manning dominated in high school and at the University of Tennessee where he set numerous school and NCAA records.
Manning, who developed a reputation as a voracious student of the game, was selected by Indianapolis with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
For a franchise that had endured a recent record of hard luck and lots of losses, Manning was quickly embraced by the team’s fans as a savior.
But Manning’s rookie year was far from perfect. While he set NFL rookie records for completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdowns, he also threw a league-worst 28 interceptions for a Colts team that finished 3-13.
Manning recalled meeting Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas during that rookie season, and Unitas told the first-year Colts quarterback “you stay at it.”
“Well, I have stayed at it - I stayed at it for 18 years,” an emotional Manning said on Monday. “And I hope that old No. 19 is up there ... and I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he’s even a little proud of me.”
Manning’s inconsistencies eventually gave way to a level of success that made him arguably the game’s best quarterback and the face of a high-powered Colts team that regularly contended for the NFL’s top record.
He won his first MVP award in the 2003 season and is the only player to claim the honor five times, earning it again in the 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2013 campaigns.
Among his many records, Manning has thrown for the most yards (71,940) and touchdowns in NFL history (539).
But after missing the entire 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries, the Colts cut Manning rather than pay him a $28 million bonus and one month later took highly-touted quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Manning signed with Denver where he enjoyed three impressive seasons, winning Comeback Player honors, another MVP and a trip to the Super Bowl.
This past 2015 campaign, Manning battled injuries, missed six games and seemed to lose arm strength.
Upon his return, however, he avoided mistakes and helped support a fierce Broncos defense during an improbable late run to the NFL title as the oldest quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl.
Broncos general manager John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback himself, called him a pioneer.
“We always used to think that a no-huddle (offense) was fast paced, get to the line of scrimmage and keep people off balance,” said Elway.
“Peyton revolutionized it in that, ‘You know, we’re going to get to the line of scrimmage, we’re going to take our time, I’m going to find out what you’re doing, and then I’m going to pick you apart.’”
Following the news conference tributes, Manning delivered his remarks and, after one final question, he uttered the word “Omaha” before stepping off the stage for the last time as a player.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Larry Fine