So now your Sunday best is a relic, like everyone figured. You can still pull on that No. 18 jersey, Mr. I-Bleed-Blue, but it's a museum piece, as of today. It's yesterday's news wrapped in a History Channel documentary wrapped in a scrapbook full of old photos, every one of which dials up a memory.
Here is Peyton Manning, flaming the Chiefs in Arrowhead. Here he is holding up the rain-speckled Lombardi Trophy. Here he is on the sideline at the end of it all, wearing a ballcap and civvies and the tortured look of a man watching the only team he's ever known fall off a cliff, and him helpless to stop it.
All of that is over now.
The next time you see Peyton Manning, crazily, he will be wearing something besides a horseshoe on his helmet.
The news leaked Tuesday evening that the Colts would not shovel over another $28 million to keep him around, and so he is a free agent now after 14 years as the defining symbol of an entire franchise. Everyone knew this was coming, and, listen, it was the right thing to do. You can't turn the page without turning the last one, and the Colts have been turning the page since the Polians were sent packing more than two months ago, three days into 2012.
From that very minute, the Peyton Era was officially over. That it would not have been over had Manning not had the neck issue and had the Colts not irretrievably fallen apart without him matters not a whit. The fact remains he did have the neck issue, and the Colts did fall apart, and providence did the rest, handing the Colts their next franchise quarterback before, truthfully, they were probably ready for it to happen.
That makes all of this feel awkward and cattywampus and too, too sudden. But it doesn't change the reality.
The reality is this: Nothing lasts forever. However much we'd like to think signature players and their teams are joined at the hip forevermore, that would only be true if professional sports were, in fact, only games. But they're not.
They're a business – and in the NFL's case, a mega-business – and business can sometimes be cruel. And so if business dictated that Johnny Unitas finish his career as a San Diego Charger and Joe Namath finish his as a Los Angeles Ram, why should we not have expected Peyton Manning to finish his as, say, an Arizona Cardinal?
Nothing lasts forever. Not even Babe Ruth, after all, played his last games in the House That Ruth Built.
Likewise, Manning will play his somewhere other than Lucas Oil Stadium, the house that he built. He'll take seven division titles in eight years and two AFC titles and a Super Bowl title and every career record a quarterback can own with him, plus the assurance that he'll go to Canton as a Colt. Nothing else would be right or proper.
This is just … business. And inevitable as a rainstorm on the same day you wash your car.