By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning bid an emotional farewell to the National Football League on Monday after an 18-year career that established him as one of the game's greatest quarterbacks.
"Today I retire from the game of pro football," Manning, who capped his brilliant career by helping Denver win the Super Bowl last month, told a packed news conference in Denver. "It was the right time."
Manning, who battled back from a foot injury that cost him six games last season, said he would surely miss the game.
"When someone thoroughly exhausts an experience they can't help but revere it. I love the game," he said. "So you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely, I will."
Manning, who turns 40 later this month, retires as the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns and yards and as the only five-time winner of the league's Most Valuable Player award.
The cerebral signal-caller left the football stage on a high-point, becoming the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and first to win with two different teams following the NFL crown he won with the 2006 Indianapolis Colts.
Manning, who became the face of the NFL as a glamour quarterback and ubiquitous TV pitchman, has been hailed for his meticulous preparation and ability to find holes in opposing defenses as he surveys them at the line of scrimmage.
Recently, however, he has come under fire off the field.
He was among the athletes cited in a lawsuit filed by a group of former female students who are suing the University of Tennessee over its handling of sexual assault complaints made against student-athletes.
Manning was also hit by a recent allegation that he had human growth hormone sent to his house in 2011 while he was recovering from neck surgery.
Asked about the sexual assault allegation that goes back some 20 years ago, Manning said: "This is a joyous day and nothing can overtake this.
"It's sad that some people don’t understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what has been alleged."
Manning then returned to pleasant reminiscences of his NFL career, thanking teammates from the Colts and Broncos and saying he would also treasure some of the rivalries he had with opposing players.
Manning also thanked his family, which represents NFL quarterbacking royalty in his father Archie, a former New Orleans Saints standout, and brother Eli, who won two Super Bowl MVP honors in wins with the New York Giants.
"There’s no way to measure or properly express what a family like mine can mean," he said, with his mother, father, older brother Cooper and Eli all in attendance. "And (wife) Ashley, your support is as potent a motivator as any man can have.
"I’ll miss recapping the game with my dad, and checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli as we’re both on our team busses," he added.
"I'll miss that handshake with Tom Brady and I'll miss the plane ride after a big win with 53 teammates standing in the aisles laughing and celebrating during the whole flight."
All that said, Manning was looking forward to his future and "a whole new world of possibilities."
Manning said he gave the NFL his all.
"There were other players who were more talented, but there was no one who could outprepare me, and because of that I have no regrets.
"I fought a good fight and finished my football race, and after 18 years it’s time.
"God bless all of you, and God bless football.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)