Archie Manning wasn’t sure his youngest son even wanted to play football.
“He was kind of quiet, and we dragged him to all these high school games,” the elder Manning said of Eli, whose older brothers Cooper and Peyton couldn’t get enough of football growing up in New Orleans. “I wasn’t sure [Eli] liked it, so it was kind of surprising.”
The former Saints star quarterback looked on with a mix of pride and excitement on Sunday as Eli played what might have been his final game in a Giants uniform. He started his second straight game in place of rookie Daniel Jones, who is expected to return soon from a high ankle sprain, and led the Giants to a 36-20 win over the Dolphins.
It won’t be the same as Peyton’s final game in the NFL — he won Super Bowl L and then retired — but Archie is delighted to see Eli finish what he started in 2004, when the Giants acquired him in a blockbuster draft-day trade with the Chargers.
Archie hopes Giants fans think of Eli in this way: that “he did it right. He showed up every week. I was proud of that for Peyton, most of his career, and very proud of how Eli did that. He showed up and I think he represented them well. Both of them are very blessed to do something they wanted to do and do it for a long time and see the bright side of it.”
While Archie played on awful Saints teams through most of his career, he got to see each of his quarterback sons earn two Super Bowl titles. Peyton won one each for the Colts and Broncos and Eli won both of his Super Bowls for the Giants.
And if this was Eli’s last game as a Giants starter, Archie got to see him go out a winner — even if the Giants’ season has gone all wrong.
“I’m sorry the last five or six years for the Giants haven’t been great,” Archie said. “I hate it. Not just for Eli but for everybody associated with the Giants.”
Can he foresee Eli playing in another uniform next year?
“I know there were a couple of things out there this year [as far as a potential trade], but who knows?” Archie said. “The other thing is the times that we’re in now. There’s a big change going on [with mobile quarterbacks]. Pocket quarterbacks, what would it be like for Tom [Brady] and Peyton, Eli, Philip [Rivers], if those guys came out today? People would probably look at them differently. The world changes and the game changes. If you’re going to be a pocket quarterback, you better have some good protection.”
Archie said he hasn’t spoken to Eli about whether he’ll play, but things seem to be pointing toward retirement after the season. It all felt like such a goodbye moment on Sunday, especially with Manning being taken out of the lineup with 1:50 to play and getting a chance to be cheered by the fans. Eli waved to the crowd as he was shown on the video board, his eyes welling with tears.
“Eli is pretty good at thinking things through,” Archie said. “He’ll do what’s right and he’ll do what’s best.”