Saying goodbye is the most difficult part of the job for a head coach, for a front-office executive and, in special instances, for an esteemed player.
Who would have ever dreamed that Manning would end his NFL career with a team other than Indianapolis? It's likely to happen, with Manning expressing every intent to play in 2012 and sign, in a matter of days or weeks, his last contract. A perfect storm of a season-long injury to Manning and then a complete breakdown in the football function with the Colts led to them having the first pick in April's draft and the opportunity to pick the sensational Andrew Luck.
In this case, the parting seems to be amicable and while the reaction is extreme in some corners of the state of Indiana, most seem to recognize the divorce as inevitable with Manning due to receive a $28 million roster bonus.
Look back at some of the difficult goodbyes we have been part of with the Eagles. Safety Brian Dawkins left as an unrestricted free agent to sign with Denver. Running back Brian Westbrook was released on a day when head coach Andy Reid expressed his remorse and the "difficulty" of making such a heart-tugging move. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded on Easter night, just after most folks finished dinner, and there was a press conference and scarcely enough time to say goodbye before he showed up at Lincoln Financial Field in a Redskins uniform playing against the Eagles.
Before them, players like cornerback Troy Vincent and running back Duce Staley moved to other teams in free agency, a reality in an NFL where the contracts are big and players will play as long as one of the 32 teams pay them.
Who is the next Eagles player to stay here for his entire career, to retire as an Eagle, and to live in Philadelphia and grow his family roots here? Doesn't anyone miss that part of the game, the way we get to know men when they are young and share their growing pains and watch as they mature into family men and fathers and businessmen in the community?
Then again, who was the last Eagle to take that road? Wide receiver Mike Quick is a candidate, although his NFL career was cut short by injuries. Offensive tackle Tra Thomas had a cup of coffee in Jacksonville and a taste of Southern California in San Diego before returning to South Jersey and making his presence known in the media in Philadelphia. Westbrook, for that matter, signed on for a season with the 49ers after his release here, but he's now back in Philadelphia and will be seen and heard widely in the media around town.
Maybe we will get lucky and have defensive end Trent Cole play for 10 seasons here and retire as an Eagle. Maybe running back LeSean McCoy will play until 2019, win a couple of Super Bowls and then retire as the greatest offensive player in team history.
I'm reminded of this nostalgia on a day when Manning was officially released by the Colts and the immediate reaction was of his next destination and, on the other end of the spectrum, of the legal difficulties faced by former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell.
Mitchell is a classic example of a player who didn't understand his role, who didn't have a grasp on the reality of his situation. He could have been a good backup wide receiver here for several more seasons, could have gained great fame in the media from his fourth-and-26 catch in 2003 and his outgoing personality. He could have made a great living for himself staying in Philadelphia and developing ties with the corporate community.
Instead, Mitchell was unhappy in a backup role after four seasons here and wanted to find stardom elsewhere. He signed with Kansas City and never played in another NFL game and his career was over after 90 catches, 1,263 yards and 5 touchdowns. Since then, Mitchell has scuffled to find his way in life and is now facing prison charges.
Just as sad is the Terrell Owens story, one we have talked about a great deal over the years. Had he stayed in Philadelphia and played football and appreciated his situation, Owens would have gone down as one of the all-time great players in league history. He would have been adored in Philadelphia. He would have been a star forever.
Instead, Owens bullied his way out of town, played in Dallas, Cincinnati and Buffalo and never reached the heights he achieved as an Eagle. Owens is now reportedly in a desperate financial situation as he tries to resurrect his NFL career.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, with only the joy of meeting again. Never is that more true than with a professional athlete. Sometimes the players just don't know when to say when. Sometimes the teams have to force the issue.
Never is it an easy thing to witness, or to be part of.
We understand how short-lived a professional athlete's time is, which is why there is so much intensity from the fans and media directed at that player. Who knows how long it is going to last? A player demands our full attention, which is why it is sometimes so difficult to say goodbye.
Hopefully, the players appreciate all that is around them, as Manning clearly did during his time as a Colt. He couldn't thank the fans and the support team with the Colts enough. He cited the "special relationships" cultivated since he was the No. 1 draft pick in 1998.
Boy, it goes by quickly. So many of the cheers are replaced by tears when it comes time to part ways, willingly or not. You hope a player squeezes out every last ounce of enjoyment before it is time to go, and that maybe, just maybe, he can stay close by and feel the love for the rest of his life.