(ABC News) — After 18 years in the NFL, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning announced his retirement today, saying in an emotional speech that the end of his football career “is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet.”
He said he’ll “absolutely” miss the game, from celebratory plane rides after a big win, to checking after his own games whether the New York Giants won and calling that team’s quarterback, his brother Eli.
Manning, 39, said, “There are other players who are more talented, but there was no one that could out prepare me, and because of that I have no regrets.
He thanked his wife, saying her “support is as potent a motivator as any man could have,” and mentioned his children, who he said “changed my life forever.”
He also thanked the fans, citing “fan letters that have touched me, made me think, laugh and moved me to act.”
Manning said football “is a mighty platform that has given me a voice, like an echo that can go well beyond the game.”
“Football has taught me not to be led by obstructions and setbacks but instead be led by dreams,” he said. “Due to some good genes, I’m smart enough to know those lessons can enrich who I am and where I go from here.
“I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet,” he said. “Life is not shrinking for me. It’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.”
Manning concluded his prepared remarks with: “God bless all of you and God bless football.”
In response to a reporter’s question today, Manning publicly addressed for the first time a recently resurfaced sexual assault allegation from when he played at the University of Tennessee.
“This is a joyous day and nothing can take away from this day,” Manning said. “I think it is sad that some people don’t understand the truth and the facts. And I did not do what has been alleged. And I’m not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old.”
He added, “Like Forrest Gump said, ‘that’s all I have to say about that.”
Manning said he’s going on vacation and will play golf with his brothers before he decides what’s next for his life.
Manning, the winningest quarterback in NFL history, said last month after his Super Bowl win that he would take his time deciding whether to return for a 19th season.
“I got some good advice from my old coach Tony Dungy,” Manning said, referring to his former Indianapolis Colts coach. “He told me just to take some time after this game and not make an emotional decision.”
Manning, a five-time MVP and two-time Super Bowl winner, is also the league’s all-time leader in passing yards — 71,940 — as well as touchdowns — 539.
Manning was expected to make at least $19 million next season.