Peyton Manning farewell proves warm homage, not cold inquisition

It was an emotional and warm farewell, not a grand jury inquisition.

Peyton Manning's press conference Monday to announce his NFL retirement was clearly out of the ordinary, as suggested by live coverage not just on ESPN but for a time on both Fox News and MSNBC. So even cable news turned briefly from the blood sport they've made out of the presidential campaign to, well, just plain sports.

But if there was a seeming inevitability with some of Manning's recent personal troubles being broached, it was probably naïve to think they'd divert the assembled sportswriters from sticking to, well, the sports of this day.

Did Manning mull coming back since winning the Super Bowl? How gratifying was it to come back from injury that sidelined him much of the season? Did he "revolutionize" the quarterback position by design? A dozen questions over 18 minutes were of that ilk, with one notable difference.

One query did understatedly broach the subject of recently renewed allegations of sexual harassment when he was a star at the University of Tennessee. But the question, posed by USA TODAY's Lindsay Jones, was greeted like a skunk at a testimonial dinner party. Manning firmly swatted the matter away and offered little beyond a likely rehearsed Hollywood allusion.

"This is a joyous day," he said. "I think it is sad that some people don't understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what is alleged. I'm not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19."

Without any reference to alleged details, he dismissed the matter and declared, "Like Forest Gump said, that's all I have to say about that."

After Manning's response, Jones tweeted that she "had to ask" the question.

So neither the Tennessee matter nor unrelated claims by Al Jazeera America of his perhaps using performance-enhancing drugs would find any real forum on this day.

When ESPN then assembled a press conference post-mortem by its "NFL Insiders" show team, there was no reference to the two sets of unsettling accusations that have popped up in recent months. Host Suzy Kolber opened by calling the farewell "brilliant, emotional," and nothing that followed diverted from that assessment.

A sports icon and corporate marketing dynamo was unsullied as he formally, and at times emotionally, exited the playing stage.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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