DENVER (CBS4)– When Peyton Manning delivered his emotional retirement speech on Monday he mentioned a Hall of Fame quarterback who had a big influence on his career.
The former Denver Broncos quarterback broke down a bit when he mentioned the late Johnny Unitas, who wore No. 19 for the Baltimore Colts, early in his speech.
“I had met him once before, but when the game was over I had the chance to shake Johnny Unitas’ hand. He told me, ‘Peyton, you stay at it. I’m pulling for you'”, Manning said. “Well, I have stayed at it. I’ve stayed at it for 18 years and I hope that old No. 19 is up there with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on. I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he’s even a little proud of me.”
The closeness of the two players goes beyond both being Colts quarterbacks.
He was one of Manning’s father Archie’s favorite players and is also credited with redefining the two minute drill by calling his own plays.
And after his passing in 2002, Manning petitioned the NFL to allow him to wears Unitas’ famous black high tops on the field during an Indianapolis Colts game.
On Tuesday, Unitas’ widow Sandra released the following statement about Manning:
“In the days following my husband’s death in 2002, Peyton Manning sought permission from the NFL to wear high top shoes in the Indianapolis Colts’ next game, in honor of John Unitas. Though facing the possibility of a hefty fine, Manning opted to honor his predecessor.
At one of the darkest moments in my life – and at a time when the sacrifices and successes of NFL pioneers often went unacknowledged – Peyton’s kind gesture, his thoughtful tribute, touched my heart.
As I watched his retirement speech yesterday, I was again struck with emotion as Peyton related John’s encouraging words following a Colts’ game against the Ravens in Baltimore. Knowing my husband as I did for more than 32 years, I can assure Peyton that old No. 19 is indeed “up there with his flat top and…his black high tops on” and that he is very proud of No. 18.
In Manning, John recognized a man of similar character, someone who shared the same love for the game. Though generations apart as Colts’ quarterbacks, John Unitas was very proud that a young man like Peyton Manning followed in his footsteps.
As Peyton’s NFL playing career comes to a close, I want to thank him for the respect he has for my husband and for the kindness he has shown to me and my family. I wish him all the best.”