For Eli Manning, it has never been about him.
Never about 366 touchdown passes – seventh most in NFL history. Never about the 57,023 yards – also seventh most ever. Never about the numbers that often shape a quarterback’s legacy.
For Manning, it has always been about his team. And his teammates.
The feeling you get when you win a football game after pouring a week’s worth of preparation into the effort. The bonds you forge when you help those around you achieve their collective goal. The incredible emotional high you enjoy when you can celebrate a win – whether it be in the regular season or in the greatest game of all, the one on the final Sunday of the playoffs.
For Manning, it has always been about what he can do to create those special moments that will last a lifetime.
“It’s still the feeling of winning, in the locker room with your teammates, after a hard-earned game,” Manning said after winning what almost certainly was his final NFL game less than two weeks ago at MetLife Stadium. “To get the W is still the best feeling of all.”
He has enjoyed that feeling more than any other quarterback in Giants’ history, leading his team to 117 regular season wins and eight more in the playoffs, including two Vince Lombardi Trophies. His last one was a 36-20 win over the Dolphins on Dec. 15, a fitting sendoff in front of the fans who have watched him go from struggling rookie to two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP.
Manning walked off the field and into the locker room with that special feeling he has lived for all these years.
One more time.
One last time.
He has led more wins than any other Giants’ quarterback and takes his rightful place as the greatest quarterback in the nearly century-old history of the franchise.
In what will almost surely be his final game in a Giants’ uniform on Sunday, Manning will watch from the sidelines as his heir apparent, Daniel Jones, closes out his own rookie season against the Eagles. Fans will see No. 10 one last time, while watching the quarterback they can only hope will approach some of Manning’s achievements.
Jones has already shown legitimate promise for what lies ahead. He has 23 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions – highly impressive numbers for a rookie player, particularly someone who has made a quantum leap in competition after a career at Duke. Manning has been the dutiful tutor, serving as a sounding board for Jones and teaching by example what it means to be a professional quarterback.
After Jones’ five touchdown performance against the Redskins in last Sunday’s 41-35 overtime win – Jones’ first game without a turnover – he acknowledged the benefits of watching Manning prepare as the starter during the rookie’s two-game absence with an ankle injury. As the two stood next to one another in the locker room afterwards, they quietly discussed some of the X’s and O’s from the game, trading information the way only quarterbacks with an intimate knowledge of the game plan can.
When the two returned home, their postgame celebration was caught on video at a bar in Hoboken, where the two indulged in a game of “flip cup” with other teammates, including Saquon Barkley. “You got to see Eli Manning out there flipping a cup,” Barkley said. “That’s pretty dope if you ask me.”
It is nearly over now, with the torch having been passed from Manning to Jones. Manning will finish his Giants’ career, not with the kind of flourish he produced against the Dolphins, but with a more subdued, yet undeniably emotional departure after a fabulous 16-year career.
Time for one more round of applause from the home crowd, who feted him with an unforgettable outpouring of support during and after his final start and can now stand and cheer him as he stands on the sidelines helping his successor.
It will be the last time Manning puts on a helmet and shoulder pads for the Giants, as he prepares to walk off into a life after football. He’ll carry with him reminders of all those wins, all those special moments he created.
Not for himself, but for those around him.
And that includes the legion of Giants fans who have witnessed the greatest and longest-lasting career of their beloved quarterback.