Weeks and weeks of “Will he or won’t he?” are over. Peyton Manning has officially retired after a 17-year career that has included 539 touchdown passes and 71,940 passing yards, NFL records both.
Manning also won two championships, one as a Colt and one as a Bronco, made the Pro Bowl 14 times and was named First-Team All-Pro seven times.
It was a career full of memorable moments. Here are the top 10.
No. 10: “Omaha!”
How fitting it was that Manning’s final word at his retirement press conference was “Omaha.”
Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard Manning yell “Omaha!” while barking signals.
The “Omaha” play call became famous during the Broncos’ 24-17 win over the Chargers in the 2013 AFC divisional playoffs.
Manning led the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII. He lost that one but finally won his second ring two years later. Now he’s retiring, and the mystery of “Omaha” has yet to be revealed.
No. 9: 2013 regular-season finale
Manning broke Tom Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a single season with his 51st the week before, but he still needed 266 yards to surpass Drew Brees for most passing yards in a season.
He needed only one half to do it against the Raiders.
Manning threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 18 seconds left in the first half to give the Broncos a 31-0 lead and bring his season total to 5,477 passing yards, one more than Brees in 2011. It was also his fourth touchdown pass of the game and 55th of the season. The closest anyone has come to that record since then is Andrew Luck, Manning’s successor in Indianapolis, with 40 in 2014.
No. 8: Broncos debut
After 20 months and one day and four neck surgeries, Manning stepped back onto the field with a new uniform. Instead of the blue and white of the Colts, he wore the Broncos’ trademark orange.
On the Sunday Night Football stage in Week 1 of the 2012 season, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. The first of those touchdowns was his 400th career TD pass. The second was a one-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme with 9:23 left in the game to give the Broncos a 22-19 lead on the way to a 31-19 victory over the Steelers.
It was the 36th of Manning’s NFL-record 45 career fourth-quarter comebacks.
No. 7: 2003 comeback win at Tampa Bay
It didn’t seem to be Manning’s night when Ronde Barber returned an interception 29 yards for a 35-14 Buccaneers lead with 5:09 to play.
Jon Gruden’s defending-champion Buccaneers then learned that for the next decade and a half no lead would be safe against Manning.
Brad Pyatt’s 90-yard kickoff return sparked the epic comeback. James Mungro’s three-yard touchdown run with 3:43 left narrowed the deficit to 35-21 and the Colts recovered the onside kick. Manning’s 28-yard TD pass to Marvin Harrison made it 35-28 with 2:38 left.
The Colts forced a punt and had the ball at their 15 with 1:43 left and no timeouts. A roughing-the-passer penalty followed by a 52-yard completion to Harrison brought the ball to the Bucs’ 6-yard line, and Ricky Williams (not THAT Ricky Williams) tied the score with a one-yard touchdown run.
Mike Vanderjagt, who figures prominently in another one of Manning’s most memorable moments, made a 29-yard field goal in OT to give the Colts a 38-35 win and complete the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in team history. The Colts also became the first NFL team to overcome a 21-point deficit with four minutes or less left in regulation.
No. 6: First playoff victory
Making history with that Monday Night Football comeback at Tampa Bay was nice, but Manning was still searching for his first playoff win.
The knock on Manning for the bulk of his career was his playoff disappointments. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when just winning a playoff game was a monkey on Manning’s back.
After losing his first three playoff games, Manning finally got over the hump in 2003. He completed 26 of 31 passes with five touchdowns in a 41-10 wild-card win over the Broncos at Indianapolis.
The Colts made it to the AFC championship game that year and lost at New England. Getting past Tom Brady and the Patriots was another hurdle that Manning eventually would clear, and it would be much more dramatic than this one-sided win over the Broncos.
No. 5: Idiot kicker
It wasn’t until his sixth season when Manning finally won his first playoff game, and the frustration boiled when the Colts lost 41-0 on the road to the Jets in a 2002 wild-card game.
Weeks later, Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt went on Canadian television and criticized Manning for not showing enough emotion. Manning had a platform to respond at the Pro Bowl, where he famously said Vanderjagt was just an “idiot kicker” who got “liquored up.”
Three years later, Vanderjagt missed a field goal that the Colts needed to force overtime in a 2005 divisional playoff game against the Steelers. He didn’t kick for the Colts again. Manning won his first Super Bowl the following year and his career would last another nine years after that.
It’s safe to say Manning got the better of that little exchange.
No. 4: Manning break’s Favre’s record for TD passes
Manning again showed his knack for not wasting time when a record is within reach.
Needing three touchdown passes to break Brett Favre’s career record of 508, Manning threw his third in the second quarter of this Sunday Night Football home game against the 49ers.
After throwing TD passes to Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker, Manning fired the record-breaker to Thomas for No. 509 to give the Broncos a 21-3 lead.
Before Manning got the keepsake ball, Thomas, Sanders, Welker and tight end Julius Thomas played a little game of keep-away.
No. 3: 7 TD passes in 2013 season opener
Because of scheduling conflicts, the Ravens weren’t able to host the traditional Thursday-night opener as Super Bowl champions. To make matters worse, they had to start life without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at Denver of all places.
Peyton Manning picked apart the Ravens defense and threw seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 win. He became one of eight players to throw seven touchdown passes in a single game and it helped launch his record-breaking 55-touchdown season.
No. 2: Fourth-and-2
Bill Belichick really didn’t want to see Manning on the field again in this 2009 game.
The Patriots had a 34-21 lead at Indianapolis with 4:17 to play, but Manning moved the Colts 79 yards on six plays to narrow the deficit to 34-28 with 2:27 left.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at their own 28 with 2:08 left, the Patriots decided to go for it on fourth down rather than punt. Tom Brady’s pass to Kevin Faulk gained just one yard, and Manning needed just 29 yards in two minutes for the go-ahead touchdown, a one-yard toss to Reggie Wayne.
It was the most mystifying play call in Belichick’s career, and by this time Manning’s fortunes against the Patriots were starting to change. He would win two AFC championship games against the Patriots in the last three years of his career. The real turning point came three years before this 35-34 Sunday Night Football victory.
No. 1: 2006 AFC championship game
The Colts’ 2003 and 2004 seasons had ended in frigid Foxboro against the Patriots and their 2005 season ended stunningly in a home playoff loss against Pittsburgh.
In 2006, the Colts earned the right to host the Patriots in the AFC championship game. For most of the first half, it looked like the game might as well have been played at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots jumped out to a 21-3 lead and led 21-6 at halftime.
Manning ended a 14-play drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge with 8:21 left in the third quarter. It was one of only three postseason rushing touchdowns in Manning’s career, and he’d run for only five more regular-season touchdowns in his career.
The Patriots went three-and-out and Manning threw a game-tying touchdown to tackle-eligible Dan Klecko with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Not by a long shot.
The teams traded touchdowns and the game was tied 28-28 early in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Stephen Gostowski’s 41-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 34-31 lead with 3:53 left in the game.
After both teams punted, Manning had the ball at his own 20 with 2:17 to play. A 32-yard pass to Bryan Fletcher followed by a 14-yard pass to Reggie Wayne and a roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Colts a first-and-1o at the Patriots 11 with 1:53 left, and Manning’s work was done. He did have to hand off, however, to Joseph Addai three times. The game-winning touchdown came with 1:02 left.
The Patriots got to the Colts’ 45, but Marlin Jackson sealed the 38-34 win and Manning’s first Super Bowl appearance with an interception.
The Colts went on to beat the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI, and Manning finally captured that elusive championship and a claim to being the best quarterback ever.