If you want to get to the essence of Eli Manning, you must go back to the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 1, 2008.
It is the Giants’ final practice before Super Bowl XLII, and David Tyree is dropping just about every pass thrown his way.
“This was supposed to be our dress rehearsal,” Tyree recalled Friday afternoon, a few minutes after Manning bid farewell to the NFL after a 16-year career with the Giants. “I probably dropped everything. I dropped at least six. Dropping two is a bad day, but this was really bad. I’ve never been a guy that lacked confidence, but I knew it was a horrible day and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.”
A few minutes after practice, with Tyree still wondering what had just happened and whether this was an ominous sign in advance of Sunday’s game against the Patriots, Manning walked over to him.
“It was just a quick huddle,” Tyree said, “but he made it a point to come around saying, ‘I know you’ll be ready for the game. I believe in you.’ It was a quick moment of oozing some confidence into me.”
Two days later, Manning and Tyree combined to make the most memorable play in Super Bowl history.
With the Giants trailing the Patriots 14-10 in the fourth quarter, Manning spun away from the Patriots’ pass rush, somehow avoided an almost certain sack and delivered a long pass down the middle of the field to Tyree. He leaped over safety Rodney Harrison to catch the ball and pinned it to his helmet as the two fell to the ground.
Moments later, with 35 seconds left, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the left corner of the end zone with the winning touchdown pass to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. The Giants had prevented the Patriots from completing a 19-0 season.
Two days after their talk about Tyree’s moment of doubt, Manning had delivered the game’s biggest pass and Tyree had made the most unlikely catch in Super Bowl history.
That’s the kind of teammate Manning was — when no one was looking. That’s the kind of quarterback he was — when everyone was looking.
“He definitely came through with those words of encouragement,” Tyree said, “and it worked out for both of us.”
Manning walks away after 16 eventful seasons in a Giants uniform, the greatest quarterback in the team’s nearly century-long history and a player whose accomplishments should lead to a Hall of Fame induction.
He is one of only five quarterbacks to win at least two Super Bowl MVPs. He owns every significant franchise passing record and now has the rare distinction of having his number retired on the very same day he announced his retirement. Manning will take his rightful place in the Giants’ Ring of Honor next season.
He started and ended his career with the Giants and from 2004 to 2019 was the consummate professional. A great player on the field, a terrific teammate. The Giants couldn’t have asked for a better face of the franchise.
“I think it was important to me to go out as a Giant, and I think when you get drafted and you come to an organization, I think that’s always your goal to stay with one organization your entire career,” Manning said. “As you get toward the end of it, it doesn’t always work out that way and you still have desires to play sometime, but I think it was important. The fans, the organization, this family with the Giants, has been so remarkable.”
He added: “I think it was the right thing to call it a career and to end it instead of trying to uproot my family and leave and try somewhere else. This was the right decision and I know it is and I’m at peace with it.”
Would he have liked to win more games and win more championships? Of course. The last part of his career was marked more by his team’s failures. But Manning never flinched — not once — from his willingness to lay it on the line for his team and his teammates. That moment he took to lift Tyree’s spirits was just one example of the leadership qualities that made him so unique and so respected.
“Eli Manning is the best crossover leader that I’ve ever had, meaning a leader of the offense, defense, guys from different backgrounds,” said David Cutcliffe, who coached Manning at Ole Miss and was in attendance Friday. “I think that’s his staying power with one organization. Even though the names on the backs of the jerseys changed, Eli just naturally fits with people. Maybe the most humble great player the game has ever seen.”
Manning survived and thrived in New York. He delivered two championships and gave his heart and soul to the only team he ever wanted to play for.
Eli Manning: forever a Giant.