EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Reuters) – Not one for flash or grandstanding, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday quoting the time-worn wisdom of Frank Sinatra, another New York icon who sang: “I did it my way.”
Call him plain-spoken or even low-energy, Manning has heard it all in his 16 seasons with the Giants, along the way picking up two Super Bowl championships while never trying to match the big personalities of the big city he would come to represent.
“Undoubtedly, I would have made the fans, the media, even the front office more comfortable if I was a more ‘rah-rah guy’, but that’s not me,” Manning told reporters on Friday.
“Ultimately, I truly believed my teammates and the fans learned to appreciate that. They knew what they got was pure, unadulterated Eli.”
A subdued figure on the field and in the locker room, the four-time Pro Bowler carved out his role as an omnipresent figure in one of New York sports’ most storied institutions, playing 236 games during his tenure, the most of any player in team history.
Remarkably, the 39-year-old never missed a single game due to injury, an accomplishment almost unheard of in the bone-crunching modern era of football.
The number-one pick in the 2004 draft, Manning landed in New York through a draft-day swap with the then-San Diego Chargers for Philip Rivers, telling reporters at the time: “I think things will work out here.”
The remark would become an almost laughable understatement, as the lanky kid from Ole Miss set about breaking a laundry list of Giants franchise records including 57,023 passing yards, 4,895 completions and 366 touchdowns.
Team co-owner John Mara told reporters the draft-day trade for Manning “probably the best trade in franchise history,” before announcing the retirement of Manning’s number 10 jersey.
“We’re also able to witness one of the greatest players in franchise history be able to leave the game on his own terms, having played his whole career as a Giant, something that doesn’t always happen in this business,” said Mara.
For Manning there was no accolade that could rank above his two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots, as he twice earned the MVP title and becoming one of a handful of players to claim the distinction more than once.
The first win at Super Bowl XLII was one of the most shocking upsets in all of sports, with the Giants entering the contest as the overwhelming underdogs against a Tom Brady-led team that enjoyed a perfect 16-0 regular season record.
Four years later, Manning proved the win was no fluke, toppling the Patriots yet again 21-17.
His old foe, Brady, marked the occasion on Twitter, writing: “Congratulations on your retirement, and a great career Eli! Not going to lie though, I wish you hadn’t won any Super Bowls.”
In the early years of his career, Manning played in the shadow of his older brother Peyton’s megawatt star power, with the pair following in the footsteps of their father Archie, an NFL quarterback himself who played in the league for 13 seasons.
Standing next to his two Lombardi Trophies, Manning couldn’t help but concede he wished he had won more championships, but praised the bond he formed with his title-winning teammates.
“When you win championships, you have a special, unbreakable bond with teammates,” Manning said. “When you see them, you give them a hug and hold it just a little bit longer.”
Manning also holds some less-than stellar distinctions, including a franchise record 244 career interceptions and declining performance in the final three seasons of his career that ultimately cost him the starting quarterback job after the second week of the 2019 season.
Standing in his team’s training facility for perhaps the last time as a member of the Giants, though, Manning said he was only focused on the positives.
“Why harp on the not-so-proud moments? Where is the value in that? If there are going to be endless echoes, choose the good ones,” said Manning.
“For now, I’ll focus on the touchdowns, the wins, celebrations with teammates, family and friends and sharing a cold beer in the back of a bus after a big game.”
Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by David Gregorio