It was the end of an era for the Giants and their fans, but it was one felt on a personal level by the first family of football.
Its patriarch, Archie Manning, said after watching his son Eli’s retirement on Friday that he was just happy he did not get too emotional.
“I held up better than I thought I would; he held up and we did, too,” Archie said, referring to himself and his wife, Olivia. “It was a great day.”
The milestone had added meaning for the Mannings because it not only was Eli’s final day in the NFL but marked the end of his generation’s playing days. Four years ago, Archie saw son Peyton retire.
“It’s different,” Archie said, in part because Peyton was coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Broncos, in part because Peyton left the game in less-than-ideal health. He missed the entire 2011 season after neck surgery, which had a lasting impact.
“One of the difficult things for Eli is he’s not hurt, he’s healthy,” Archie said. “That always makes it tougher for a player. But I think his emotions for retiring a Giant overcame how good he felt. He does feel like he can play.”
The desire to play for only one team was a theme in Eli’s remarks at a news conference at the Giants’ practice facility, and it was echoed by others.
“I grew up a Giants fan,” said Archie, who originally is from Mississippi. (Like Archie and Eli, Charlie Conerly, the Giants’ quarterback of the 1950s, was an Ole Miss alum.) “I loved the whole 16 years [Eli played for the Giants]. Most people I have talked to feel like he made the right decision. We feel that way.”
In 2004, Archie sought to convince the Chargers, who had the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, not to draft Eli. He eventually got his way when the Giants traded up from the fourth spot to get him.
Two Lombardi Trophies and 16 seasons later, there are no regrets for Eli or his parents.
Archie said there will be an adjustment now that there are no sons to watch in the NFL.
“But we’re fine,” he said. “Olivia and I count our blessings. We never envisioned this life. We just tried to raise kids. We didn’t try to raise NFL quarterbacks. So it’s been a fun, fun journey.”
Archie said Eli already has spoken to people about business opportunities, but his parents are not sweating his future.
“I guess that’s one thing we don’t worry about, Eli,” he said. “He’s always found his way . . . Eli’s always been a delight. He was an easy child to raise. He didn’t say much and never gave us any trouble.”
Archie played in the NFL from 1971 to 1984 and has had a son in the league every year since 1998. Now what?
Well, his eldest son Cooper’s son Arch started at quarterback as a freshman last season at his father’s and uncles’ alma mater, Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans.
Archie thinks Arch is pretty good but has tried to adhere to the family’s policy of not putting undue early pressure on the third generation of Manning quarterbacks.
“High school football is so fun, pure; it was fun for Olivia and I to be back out there watching on Friday nights,” Archie said. “But that’s all we do. He’s just trying to let everything be normal.”