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Timing of Eli Manning's retirement couldn't be better

Eli Manning of the Giants walks on the

Eli Manning of the Giants walks on the field after a game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

There is no better time for Eli Manning to walk away than now.

He has his health. He has his championships. He has his perfect sendoff.

He has his legacy intact.

Manning will officially announce his retirement on Friday after a 16-year career in which he gave the Giants two brilliant Super Bowl runs capped by MVP performances against the Patriots. He walks away just weeks after winning his final game as a starter, a 36-20 victory over the Dolphins on Dec. 15 in an emotional sendoff at MetLife Stadium.

We could all feel that would be his final moment as the Giants’ starter, and the emotional homage was a poignant reminder of all he had given to the only team he’d ever played for. He came to the Giants as a shy, skinny kid — Archie’s third son and Peyton’s baby brother — and grew into a man who became the face of the franchise, a worthy leader, and a champion.

“Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise’s history,” Giants president and CEO John Mara said in remarks distributed by the team. “He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us.”

Mara and the rest of the Giants’ organization are forever grateful to have had Manning as their quarterback, their spokesman, their leader. He didn’t always win, and we all know the final years were mired in mostly losing seasons. But Manning showed up every week, never missing a game because of injury, and he was always accountable — win or lose. His body of work is among the best in NFL history, one of only a dozen quarterbacks to win two championships.

He finishes his career seventh all-time with 366 touchdown passes, seventh in passing yards with 57,023, and tied with Joe Montana for 11th in career wins with 117. His 117 losses are more than he would have liked, and he’ll surely blame himself for many of them. But there’s also no denying the fact the teams around him — especially from 2012-19 — were insufficient.

All in all, that’s a Hall of Fame caliber resume, and Manning likely will take his place among pro football’s greats one day. His two signature plays, the remarkable escape and pass to David Tyree, who made an incredible catch to key the first Super Bowl win, and his impossible sideline completion to Mario Manningham in the second, will forever be a part of Giants’ history.

“It was an honor and privilege to coach Eli, and to go through the wonderful and magnificent moments that he and his teammates provided for all of us in the world championship ‘07-‘08 and ’11-’12 seasons,” former Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s an incredible big-game performer. You talk about a guy that’s great to coach, focused every day, took tremendous pride in preparing, practice, had a great sense of humor, was a cynic in the locker room. But the guys loved him, and they loved him for it, and they played for him.”

There was no better teammate.

Manning never publicly criticized a teammate. If he was sacked too many times for his own liking, he never pointed a finger at his offensive linemen. If his receivers dropped passes, he never blamed them. If his team lost, he never blamed anyone but himself. Consider: Manning almost never spoke to the media the day after a victory; he ALWAYS spoke to the media the day after a loss.

That’s just the way he was.

The Giants can thank former general manager Ernie Accorsi, who retired one year before Manning won his first championship, for bringing the quarterback to the Giants. He’d never scouted a better passer when he studied Manning during the quarterback’s career at Ole Miss, and he didn’t hesitate to pull off a dramatic draft-day trade with the Chargers, who had selected Manning first overall, to acquire him.

It was a decision he never regretted for a moment.

“[The late college football analyst Beano] Cook told me once, ‘You could be on the first civilian flight to Mars, and the first line of your obituary is going to be that you traded for Eli Manning,’” Accorsi said. “No question about that. I’m honored to be associated with Eli Manning in every way possible, as a person and as a player.”

Manning’s time is over, having been replaced by heir apparent Daniel Jones, who now shoulders the burden of following in a legend’s footsteps.

Giants fans will soon celebrate Manning’s induction into the team’s Ring of Honor — something that will likely happen next season — and the 39-year-old Manning can look back with pride over a life well lived in a Giants’ uniform.

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