Considering how well things have gone so far in Eli Manning’s second career, there’s a decent chance a younger generation of NFL fans will come to know him as the guy cracking jokes with older brother Peyton on Monday Night Football broadcasts. The Manning brothers have created a fascinating new out-of-the-box format for broadcasting games on their ESPN2 telecast, where the inside football analysis is captivating and the jokes and teasing between these two famous football siblings is hilarious.
But on Sunday, Eli will put one lasting touch on his NFL career when he walks out onto the MetLife Stadium field and is feted with one of the greatest honors a player can receive: He’ll have his No. 10 retired before the fans to whom he delivered two Super Bowl championships and a Hall of Fame caliber resume over 16 seasons.
"It’s just such a tremendous honor, and I’m kind of speechless about it, thinking about that scenario and the fact that it’s happening," he said. "It was never the thought."
The circle will be completed at halftime of a game featuring today’s Giants against the Atlanta Falcons – the team Manning got his first start against in 2004, and also the one that Manning defeated in a splendid playoff run to win his second Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"When I started my first game 17 years ago versus the Falcons, it was not the thought that, ‘Hey, my jersey’s definitely getting retired with the New York Giants. I got this thing figured out,’" Manning told reporters Thursday. "It’s just surreal. It’s gonna be special. It’s gonna be a very emotional day. Kind of one last farewell to all those fans wearing No. 10, and all them that supported me during my time with the Giants and continue to support me. I always appreciate their loyalty and their support through all these years."
It was an uncertain beginning for Manning, who was selected first overall by the Chargers in 2004 but was dealt to the Giants in a blockbuster trade that included Philip Rivers going to San Diego for the start of his own Hall of Fame-worthy career. Manning and coach Tom Coughlin became indelibly linked from that moment on, and even though they reached the playoffs in their second season together, there were questions about whether both men were right for their respective jobs. Especially after an 8-8 season in 2006.
"We were both on that line of, ‘Hey, do these guys have what it takes or not?’" Manning said.
A year later, they delivered an unmistakable answer. The Giants made it to the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team and then ran the table in the postseason, beating the Bucs, Cowboys and then the Packers – all on the road – before authoring one of the biggest playoff upsets by conquering the previously unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
"That stretch of those playoff games, and going into Green Bay [for the NFC Championship Game], and of course going against what would be known as the greatest team of all time in that ’07 Patriots team and the Super Bowl, and to be able to beat them," Manning said. "I think that kind of just proved that, ‘He can play well in the biggest moments.’ And that’s something we were able to do quite a few times. It was an unbelievable feeling, and it’s something you just share with your teammates."
Manning and Coughlin partnered for one more championship after the 2011 season, again beating the favored Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
"Can’t say enough great things about Coach Coughlin," Manning said. "I owe so much of my success to him, just the way he pushed me and he taught me the importance of preparation and hard work and team above self. It’s all the lessons that I learned, and I feel that’s one of the great honors and privileges that I’ve had was being able to play under him for 12 seasons."
Manning and Coughlin struggled after that 2011 run, and the Giants haven’t been the same since. Coughlin was fired after the 2015 season, and the Giants are now on their third coach in Joe Judge. Manning still keeps in touch with Coughlin, who is now dealing with the illness of his wife, Judy, who suffers from an incurable neurological condition.
"I’ve talked with him about everything going on his life, and I’ve known about [Judy’s condition] for a long time," Manning said. "I know seeing the struggles that he’s going through dealing with that."
Manning will have Coughlin on his mind Sunday, and he’ll also be thinking about so many others who have helped him along the way, from Peyton to father Archie and to all his coaches and teammates who have been a part of his success.
One more chance to take a well-deserved bow before the home crowd.
In a few more years, there should be another in Canton.