I can’t believe this is it. I mean, don’t get me wrong; as a Patriots fan, I have long awaited the day where you would no longer be a concern with bated breath.
The number of Facebook statuses I’ve posted over the years saying, “I hate Peyton Manning,” is astronomical.
I have called you an old man. I have said you were washed up. I have felt joy looking at pictures of your post-loss disappointment. I have shared many memes that have been created at your expense.
I have trash talked you. I have trash talked your fans. I swear at my television when your commercials come on (it’s almost out of superstition at this point). I even bought an “I hate Peyton Manning,” shirt outside of Fenway Park for goodness sake.
I have spent years waiting for you to be done and I have spent years hating you (in a sports fan kind of way). So, why is it that I am not ready to say goodbye? Why do I find that I am going to miss you?
It’s simple: I will miss you because you have shaped the game of football for almost my entire life. I will miss watching you lead your teams to victory time and time again (as long as it isn’t against the Patriots).
I will miss seeing you demonstrate what it is to be a good leader. I will miss you because you truly are one of the greats (no matter what my Facebook says circa 2006).
I will miss you because you played the game like no other, and you have the career stats and records to prove it. But mostly, I will miss you because you have been an unstoppable force on the field and the Patriots have been an immovable object and that rivalry that made my blood boil, and my heart stop and my eyes water is coming to an end.
Let’s be honest: I only hated you because you were incredible because you always gave the Patriots a run for their money. Watching you, a golden boy first round draft pick, competing against our underdog turned demigod quarterback has been one of the greatest privileges of my football fandom.
This intricate dance choreographed between the two greats of my time has been something I will cherish as a Patriots fan for my entire life, and it is impossible to believe it is over.
It’s like the curtain going down at the end of a ballet, and you’re too moved to acknowledge the show is over. No matter how you count the tallies -- whether it be, with stats, with super bowl wins, with post season wins -- the Brady-Manning rivalry has been a hot topic and a crowd pleaser for the last decade. Patriots nation will not be the same without it.
Lastly, Mr. Manning, I want to thank you. Thank you for all the times you had me on the edge of my seat. Thank you for playing us with everything you had every time you played us, whether at Gillette or Mile High.
Thank you for your respect, even though we are rowdy Bostonians, I assure you, you have ours. The game will never forget you.
You will long be remembered in the history books as a collection of numbers, records, statistics and snapshot instances of greatness. Whereas you may reminisce about games played by other greats like Montana, Marino and Favre; myself, and every other NFL fan of this era, will view you in the same light.
Hats off to you, Peyton. It has been an honor.
You will be missed.