Jeff Feagles was on a golf course in Phoenix when he got a phone call from the Giants. He didn’t know what it could be about, but hearing from them during the offseason – on draft weekend no less – was certainly unsettling. Was he being released? Shipped to another team?
Turned out the Giants had pulled off a huge trade for Eli Manning just a little while after he was selected first overall by the Chargers in 2004. And now they needed to execute another deal. This one was brokered by vice president of communications Pat Hanlon, who was in his office at Giants Stadium preparing to introduce the new franchise quarterback to the media. Manning was on his way to New Jersey from the draft in New York City and Hanlon needed to know right away what number to put on the jersey he’d hold up for the obligatory photo op with Tom Coughlin and Ernie Accorsi.
"Pat was like ‘Hey, Feags, listen, we just drafted Eli, we have a press conference coming up, and we want to know what the situation is with the number,’ " Feagles told Newsday.
Manning wanted to wear No. 10 with the Giants, the same number he wore at Ole Miss. But that was the number Feagles was already wearing with the team and had worn for the previous decade in the NFL with the Cardinals and Seahawks.
"I said ‘Listen, Eli is going to wear that number a lot longer than I am going to,’ " Feagles said. "’I have no problem with it. We can work the details out later, but tell him he’s going to have to come up with something.’"
That something wound up being a Feagles family vacation to Destin, Florida, the following spring, with Manning picking up the tab. "It was awesome," Feagles said of the trip. And, of course, it was awesome for Manning, who wore No. 10 for 16 seasons, through two Super Bowl wins, and will have it retired in his honor by the franchise at halftime on Sunday.
"If it was going to be easy and simple and not a big story then I said I’d do it," Manning said of the barter with Feagles. "But if it was going to be something outrageous, I probably would’ve moved on and found another number. I didn’t know what was available at the time, but it wound up being very easy. I said ‘If I could keep it, I’d like to keep it.’ And the rest is history."
Now, so too is the number itself.
But 10 wasn’t always Manning’s number of choice. In high school in New Orleans, he wore 18. Had he gone to play in college anywhere but Ole Miss, he might have kept it. Unfortunately that jersey had long been retired in Oxford.
Retired in honor of Archie Manning.
That number means so much to the school that the speed limit on campus to this day is 18 miles per hour. Even so, they were willing to break it out for at least one person.
"They asked me if I wanted to wear 18 at Ole Miss," Eli Manning said this week. "They said they would take it out of retirement and let me wear it. I said ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’"
There was already enough pressure being Archie Manning’s son and playing at Ole Miss. Wearing his number would have only further stoked the comparisons. So he had to find a new one.
"I can’t remember what the options were," Manning said. "Maybe 14 or some single-digits. I’d never been a single-digit number."
Then they showed him 10.
"I don’t think I ever had it at any league or level growing up," Manning said. "But I said, ‘I’ll go 10. I kind of like it.’ I picked it and from there and wore it all through college."
It of course became one of the most popular jerseys among Giants fans. Even now there are hundreds if not thousands who pull on their No. 10 jersey before heading to Giants games at MetLife Stadium, and undoubtedly many more thousands who do so before tuning into Giants games at home or in bars across the country. On Sunday, it will likely be even more prevalent.
"I’m just honored and kind of speechless about it thinking about that scenario and the fact that that’s happening," Manning said. "[Sunday] is going to be a very emotional day and kind of one last farewell to all those fans wearing No. 10 and all of them that supported me during my time with the Giants and continued to support me. I just appreciate their loyalty and their support through all these years."
As for Feagles, he switched to 17. Two years later the Giants signed Plaxico Burress, who wanted that number. Feagles struck another deal for it (though Burress never actually paid the negotiated cost of a new outdoor kitchen, Feagles said the books have been closed on that one and it has been "resolved internally, if you will"). Feagles wound up finishing his Giants career and his Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career wearing 18.
The number Eli Manning wore in high school and the one he might have been best known for had he taken his father’s jersey out of retirement at Ole Miss.
"I’ll be darned," Feagles said when that full-circle coincidence was brough to his attention. "It proved to be the right move. I wore 10 in junior football, but it didn’t mean as much to me as it was going to mean to Eli I figured."
He was correct. But that hasn’t stopped him from digging through his attic this week, looking through all his old NFL memorabilia, in search of one item in particular.
"I have my old jersey, number 10, that says ‘Feagles’ on the back," he said. "I was thinking of wearing that to the game this weekend. People will be walking around like ‘What are you doing?’ I’ll be like ‘You guys don’t remember, but this was my jersey first.’"
And, as it turned out, next to last.