Eli Manning talks legacy ahead of Giants’ jersey retirement ceremony

The New York Giants will retire Eli Manning’s No. 10 jersey Sunday when the team hosts the Atlanta Falcons, almost two years after Manning called it a career.

Manning played 16 seasons for the Giants, from 2004 to 2019, getting an opportunity to start in place of veteran, future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and later relinquishing the job to Daniel Jones. The two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP was asked Thursday about his legacy and what he would want to be remembered for the most.

“I think just the availability. That’s something that I probably take the most pride in,” Manning said. “Just the fact that I was there week in and week out every week and to never miss a game because of injury or anything else. I think that was always important to me, too. I think the players responded to that. They took great pride in that and, as it went on, they didn’t want to be – an offensive line didn’t want to be part of the group that got Eli hit or injured to miss a game. 

“The games where I was banged up and I had an injury, I think those next weeks they blocked even harder to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep him healthy, and we don’t want to make this worse.’ I think they saw that,” Manning added. “They saw that I wanted to be out there and that I wanted to be out there at practice. I think that was hopefully contagious, and the other guys were going to be out there to do everything they could to be there.

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New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, left, and his coach Tom Coughlin looking at the Vince Lombardi Trophy as they celebrate after the Giants beat the New England Patriots 17-14 in the Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Ariz.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, left, and his coach Tom Coughlin looking at the Vince Lombardi Trophy as they celebrate after the Giants beat the New England Patriots 17-14 in the Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Ariz.
((AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File))

“There’s only so much you can control playing football. You cannot control the outcome of every single game. There’s too many things that are out of your control, but you can control your desire and your heart and your willingness to do whatever it takes to be there for your team, for your organization and for your teammates.”

Manning’s final season was cut short due to the emergence of Jones, who was drafted as his replacement. Manning got his final start in Week 15 of the 2019 season and led the Giants to a 36-20 win over the Miami Dolphins. Manning was 20-for-28 with 283 passing yards, two touchdowns and three picks.

He said he knew at the time he was ready to retire.

“That’s kind of the only thing I knew was I was done, and I wasn’t going to second guess. I wasn’t going to look back and worry about it. I knew that I was ready to be done playing football and, when I look back on my time, I was just going to reflect on the good moments and the happy moments and the friendships I made, the wins we got to celebrate and remember those things. That was such a strange time, and I wanted to take time away,” Manning recalled.

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New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks to throw during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. 

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks to throw during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. 
(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

“Football takes up a lot of your time during the season, during the offseason, at nights, so I wanted to take the year off and just be around my family and see if there was anything else I wanted to pursue or wanted to be interested in and just kind of step away,” Manning continued. “With the pandemic, it made it easy to do that because there wasn’t many options going on. And what I kind of realized is that I still love the game. I still love prepping for it and watching film and analyzing and talking about it. When I’m around people they’re like, ‘I hate to talk football with you,’ and I say, ‘That’s what I know.’ Like I don’t know business. I don’t know how to read a spreadsheet. I don’t know everything going on in the world all over the place, but I know the game of football and I enjoy talking about it. 

Manning added he’s enjoying coaching his kids and his Monday Night Football gig in retirement, but that he considered taking a year off and possibly returning to the field with another team.

“You’ve seen a few guys take the year off and come back, and Gronk (Buccaneers Tight End Rob Gronkowski) is doing it and Jason Witten did it, but there was no interest in coming back. I saw the hits the quarterbacks were taking, and I said, ‘I do not want to experience that anymore,’” Manning explained.  

“I like how I feel every Monday morning when I wake up. It’s not just the hits, it’s just everything. I enjoyed the preparation. I could’ve gotten back into that part, but just the losing, the everything, just the grind of it all. I think I don’t know if I could have totally got back into all of that. More just the losses hurt more. They affect your sleep. They affect your week. It affects family life with my wife and kids, and it just got [to be] too much. 

“I like watching the games, and I root for the Giants and I feel for them after a loss. But you know what, I go to bed very easily on Sunday nights and wake up and feel good about the upcoming week, and it’s not something that lingers for three or four days like it used to.”

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The next stop for Manning after being honored Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., could be Canton, Ohio. 

Manning won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants in two historic upsets of the New England Patriots. He was 8-4 as a starter in the postseason, where he threw for 2,185 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) looks on with quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the second half against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium Aug 16, 2019. 

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) looks on with quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the second half against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium Aug 16, 2019. 
(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

The knock against the Giants great seems to be that he never led the NFL in key passing categories. His highest completion percentage came in 2018 when he completed 66% of his passes. His highest passing yard season came in 2011 when he threw for 4,933, and, in 2015, he threw his most touchdowns in a season — 35. Manning led the league in interceptions three times.

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As of Thursday, the four-time Pro-Bowler is in the top 10 in career passing yards (57,023) and passing touchdowns (366). He has more career passing yards than John Elway, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas. He has more touchdown passes than those three legendary quarterbacks and players like Len Dawson and Jim Kelly.