There are no players left on the active roster who have won with Eli Manning and only one who has even gone to the playoffs with him. Which is to say few Giants actually know him.
For most of them, even though they share a locker room, he is a two-dimensional character they watched win Super Bowls on TV when they were younger. He is the stoic quarterback with the resume and the rings whose playing time and power have dwindled throughout this long, dreadful season.
On Sunday, for the first time — and, more significantly, for perhaps the last time — they saw Eli Manning. The leader. The winner. The human being.
Ol’ No. 10 didn’t just deliver a victory in his most likely final start at MetLife Stadium. He bookended the game with two very different, rare, emotional moments that are going to stick with those who witnessed them long after Manning’s name is added to the Ring of Honor.
One was a public expression of gratitude and reflection as he stood on the sideline for the final minute of the 36-20 victory over the Dolphins. After being taken off the field mid-drive, he welled up and waved to the fans who stuck around to shower him with a standing ovation.
Safety Michael Thomas said he’d never been part of anything like it.
“It gave me chills. It gave me goose bumps,” he said.
“I think we all got choked up,” wide receiver Golden Tate added.
But a few hours before that, in the privacy of the pregame locker room, the Giants saw a very different Manning. The quarterback who usually stands on the fringes during the heated pep talks was right in the middle of this one, delivering an impassioned speech to his teammates just before they took the field. It even included a rare F-bomb as an exclamation point at the end.
“He was just fired up, man,” center Jon Halapio said.
They’d heard such salty language from Manning in the past.
“But not like today,” Halapio said. “Just knowing this might be his last start, collectively we all wanted to send him out right. It was easier to do it after he gave us that pregame speech.”
When Manning took the field, it was almost impossible to tell that he had any comprehension of what was happening around him. He blocked it all out, barely participating in the festivities throughout the day.
While Sterling Shepard waved his arms to encourage the crowd to cheer him on louder and louder before the team’s first offensive snap, Manning simply stood there trying to keep his hands warm in his pouch. No wave, no nod. Barely a smile.
If you thought you’d get something else from Manning, you haven’t been paying attention these past 16 seasons.
Yet that’s what made the two flare-ups of feelings so special. Manning isn’t prone to big speeches. He isn’t one to reflect or reminisce or even consider his place in NFL or team history. As it came to an end, though, the magnitude was palpable as Manning allowed himself to acknowledge what many others have been feeling all week.
That this likely is it.
Manning was far from perfect. Running back Saquon Barkley was the most dominant player on the field with two touchdowns and 112 rushing yards. But Manning completed 20 of 28 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions during a game in which he routinely heard the thousands at MetLife Stadium chant his name.
It was Manning’s first win as a starter since Dec. 9, 2018, and it brought his regular-season record as a starter back to .500 at 117-117.
The game mattered to the rest of the Giants, too. It snapped their losing streak at a franchise record-tying nine games and was their first victory since Sept. 29.
With 1:50 left in the game, the Dolphins called a timeout and the Giants’ coaches pulled Manning from the game. He pumped his fist as he trotted off the field, spent several minutes shaking hands with and hugging teammates and staffers on the sideline, then stood there alone with the camera on him as those who remained in the stadium showered him with love.
“I tried not to get too emotional just because we still have a couple football games left,” Manning said. “I know I’ll still be back in the stadium [on Dec. 29 for the Week 17 game against the Eagles]. I don’t know if I’ll play that day, but I know I’ll get to run out one more time at least . . . I tried to enjoy it and take it in for a moment.”
Manning still could get another start this season and could even get another one at MetLife Stadium depending on how quickly Daniel Jones recovers from his sprained ankle. If that’s the case, then all of the emotions that swept through the Meadowlands will seem fairly silly.
Sunday, though, certainly felt like one last chance to see the two-time Super Bowl MVP play for the franchise. But it also was one last chance for Manning to show who he is to a public and a locker room that may have either forgotten or hadn’t even known about the depth and passion he holds inside of him.
In the locker room after the game, Manning was presented the game ball and thanked his teammates.
“Even after this big, awesome farewell, if you will, he did not even draw the attention to himself,” Tate said. “He talked about how important it was to win, how good it feels to win, and the great opportunity we have to finish strong. He didn’t say anything about himself, and that shows you who he is.”
Eli Manning’s career regular-season numbers at Giants/MetLife Stadium:
Comp. % 59.6
Yards per game 246.8
TD passes 191
QB Rating 83.5