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Peyton Manning goes out with class — and questions

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning struggles to talk during his retirement announcement at team headquarters Monday in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The conspiracy theorists will point out that the ESPN feed for Peyton Manning’s retirement press conference Monday started breaking up as he was answering the only uncomfortable question asked of him.

It had to do with a sexual-harassment accusation made against him 20 years ago. It was a question that had to be asked, and it was a question that would be addressed in a few (unintelligible) words. Was this ESPN avoiding unpleasantness, as usual? Roger Goodell fiddling with a plug? Or garden-variety technical difficulties?

Here’s what the retiring Broncos quarterback actually said:

“This is a joyous day,’’ he said. “Nothing could overtake this day. I think it is sad that some people don’t understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what has been alleged. And I am not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old.”

It was a strange day. Manning gave one of the most gracious retirement speeches I can remember hearing, but hovering above it was the messiness at the end of his career. It hovered high and out of sight for some and too close for comfort for others.

Besides being accused of putting his genitals on a female trainer’s face at the University of Tennessee, there was the more recent report that human growth hormone had been delivered to his home. Manning went out on top, with a Super Bowl title, but he also went out with some haziness after 18 years in the NFL.

On Monday, he talked not about the records he set or the numbers he amassed, but the smaller things he’ll miss. His relationships with teammates. Calling his brother, Eli, after games while each were on their team buses. Putting in plays with Tom Moore (in Indianapolis) and Adam Gase (in Denver) that ended up in touchdowns on Sundays.

“My battles with players named Lynch, Lewis, Thomas, Bruschi, Fletcher, Dawkins, Seau, Urlacher, Polamalu, Harrison, Woodson and Reed,’’ he said.

What now? Speculation centers on a career as a broadcaster or as an NFL front-office executive.

“I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet,’’ he said. “Life is not shrinking for me. It’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.’’

Though perhaps with more questions.