INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning spent most of his 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts throwing countless touchdown passes, breaking records, winning MVP awards and leading the franchise to the Super Bowl XLI title.
The franchise that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 unveiled a statue of the future first-ballot Hall of Famer in front of Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"For so many reasons, if I were to draw a map of my life, Indianapolis would have as prominent a place there as it does in my heart," an emotional Manning said. "Why? Because the Colts chose me as their first overall pick, and it's certainly nice to be wanted because it was my first NFL team, and just like your car, your first is always ingrained in your memory."
In May 2016, local Indianapolis artist Ryan Feeney started the process of building the Manning statue, which depicts the quarterback standing on his toes ready to rifle one of his 539 touchdown passes while with the Colts. Feeney put the final touches on the statue Saturday morning.
The event featured many of Manning's former Colts teammates. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former Colts general manager Bill Polian, former coach Tony Dungy, and even longtime late-night television host and Indiana native David Letterman highlighted the eight guest speakers who told stories and jokes and talked about what Manning meant to the Colts. The ceremony lasted about an hour.
"I was blessed to coach in the National Football League for 28 years," Dungy said. "I ran across a lot of players who were great people. You don't hear about all the great things they do. We tend to focus on the negatives, but I ran across a lot of great young men in those 28 years. I ran across a few men who were exceptionally talented and gifted and the best of all time at what they do. But it's rare you run across one person with both those qualities, great in the community, great people and extremely gifted and talented, and that's Peyton Manning."
Manning turned Indiana, long known as a basketball and racing state, into a football state. He led the Colts to the playoffs 11 times, to 12 or more regular-season wins eight times, and to the Super Bowl twice, while winning five MVP awards. Many have said Lucas Oil Stadium would not have been built if not for Manning. Letterman joked that Indianapolis was like a "minimum-security prison with a racetrack" when he lived in the state.
"This was the guy who put the sweat, blood and tears into it," Colts owner Jim Irsay said, "and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for our friendship and for what he's meant to this city and this state. He's an iconic football player that transcended football, and what he's meant to Indiana is something that is very difficult to come up with the correct words to describe."
The Colts released Manning in the spring of 2012 after he missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. He signed with the Denver Broncos and won his second Super Bowl with them after the 2015 season, which was his 18th and final NFL season.
"I know many of you, like most of us, shed a tear when Peyton said goodbye," said Polian, who selected Manning over quarterback Ryan Leaf in the 1998 draft. "Well, today we get a chance to welcome him back home to Indiana and tell him what a pleasure it was to be his teammate and friend."
Manning, in only a Peyton Manning way, closed the ceremony with a touching message.
"There is simply no way to adamantly express what this all means to me," he said. "Again, thank you Indianapolis. Thank you Indiana. I'm proud to have been a citizen of this town. As I told the world a year and a half ago, I will always be a Colt."