Jim Irsay easily remembers his conversations with Peyton Manning during the winter of 2012 when it seemed inevitable the Indianapolis Colts would part ways with their homegrown icon.
Irsay and Manning put themselves in each other's shoes.
And Manning, at the time trying to rebound from four surgical procedures on his neck, could see the Colts' future in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
"He said, 'You've got to take Andrew,'" Irsay recalls during an interview with USA TODAY Sports. "'You have to. You're crazy if you don't.'"
The Colts indeed drafted Luck with the No. 1 overall pick last year after releasing Manning, who hitched on with the Denver Broncos and John Elway and is well-positioned for a second Super Bowl title.
Now Manning's road to the Super Bowl stops in Indianapolis, where he will bring the undefeated Broncos into Lucas Oil Stadium for a Sunday night showdown against the AFC South-leading Colts, who also have aspirations of playing in February.
"I think it's perfect," Irsay says. "What's happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended. And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning."
Irsay hardly wants to be known as the man who ran Manning out of Indy, and his team's progress under second-year general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano lessens any criticism — even while Manning flourishes with the Broncos, with a league-leading 22 touchdown passes and 2,179 yards.
There's no way the Colts could have passed up on the chance to take Luck (or Robert Griffin III, if they preferred) and secure a franchise quarterback for perhaps the next 15 years. Think of how many teams have spent decades trying to land that crucial piece. The Colts are so fortunate to have landed one right after the other.
In retrospect, with a rookie salary cap in play, perhaps the Colts could have drafted Luck and allowed him to develop slowly under Manning?
No way that could have worked, Irsay insists.
Think of the supporting cast and the new strategical direction the team has taken — with power rushing and a 3-4 defense included — in its post-Peyton incarnation.
"Circumstances created this decision," Irsay says. "You have to understand there's no way this occurs if he's in Indy. It's just impossible, where our salary cap was. Having him stay at the type of number that he expected and deserved to earn and all those things."
Manning was due a $28 million bonus if he stayed with the Colts but instead was cut loose and signed with the Broncos for five years and $96million, of which $58 million was guaranteed. His 2013 cap figure: $17.5million.
Luck, restricted by the rookie cap, counts just $5.025 million against the cap this year, the low number allowing so many other roster-building moves.
Yet there are a few other numbers Irsay mentions that really hit home in processing the transition.
"We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these," Irsay says, flicking up his right hand to show his Super Bowl XLI championship ring.
"(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these," Irsay adds. "Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.
"You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the 'Star Wars' numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this."
Then Irsay flicks up his right hand again.
Make no mistake. Irsay truly appreciates how Manning put his franchise back on the map, triggering a run of success — Indy won at least 12 games in seven consecutive seasons — that even contributed to the plush new stadium that has already hosted one Super Bowl and is in the running for another.
Yet Irsay sounds like he's hurt to have just the one ring.
In outlining the mission to Grigson and Pagano, he says, he demanded that they build a well-rounded team, with the offense supported by outstanding special teams and a dependable defense.
Then he has a flashback to a moment late in the 2006 season, when the Colts defense was shredded for 375 rushing yards by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We were schizophrenic," Irsay says. "I walked into the locker room, and Bill Polian comes up to me. He says, 'It's over.'
"'What are you talking about? We're in the playoffs. It can't be over.'
"'Too many injuries. It's over.'
"Tony Dungy was like, 'It's not over. We can fix this thing.'
"In the playoffs, we ran the ball, we stopped the run. That's what won us the Super Bowl. But we were Jekyll-and-Hyde schizophrenic.
"In looking at, again, how to build this thing, you really focus in."
So the centerpiece of Indianapolis' past will get a glimpse of the future Sunday night, with the team planning to honor Manning with a pregame tribute.
Irsay will lead the welcoming party, but clearly he has no regrets.