If Eli Manning needed a reminder of how precious times like these are for the Giants, one walked into the quarterback meeting room Tuesday afternoon.
Peyton Manning, the recently retired future Hall of Famer, stopped by to hang out with his kid brother and his team for a bit. In typical Peyton fashion, though, he didn’t just come to observe. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
“He seems to be staying busy and enjoying the down time,” Eli Manning said of Peyton. “But when he gets in this environment, he was kind of drilling the coaches with questions. I know he likes being in there, doing a little install on Pittsburgh. I’m sure he misses that environment, the game plan, how you’re going to deal with things, what your protections will be and how you’ll pick things up. Getting back in that flow of things.
“I’m sure it’s a little reminder of how special it is to be in this situation.”
And for Eli, a reminder that all good things — even great things like Peyton’s career — come to an end. Eli is the younger of the two, but he’s the oldest player on the Giants. He’ll turn 36 in a little more than a month. He’s already won two Super Bowls, and deep down he must realize that this could be one of his last chances to get to or win a third.
“I’ve always had an appreciation, never taken a season or a game or a day for granted because you know how quickly it can turn,” Eli Manning said. “I’ve played long enough where I’ve seen a number of teammates, friends who have retired or have had to retire not on their own terms. I understand the game can slip from you quickly, so always take advantage of it and don’t let a game go by.”
Unlike Peyton, who was a perennial playoff participant, Eli is in the midst of a long dry spell.
“You can get spoiled early in your career when four years in a row you make the playoffs and you assume that’s kind of the norm,” Eli said. “You play long enough, you realize it is special to be in contention to make the playoffs. Especially after the last couple where you were out early. Even the years we didn’t make it early on we were right in it until the very end in most cases.
“You appreciate the wins and appreciate how hard it is and you want to take advantage of it.”
The Giants haven’t played meaningful games in December since 2012. This year, with an 8-3 record, they are poised to end their drought. They have the second-most wins in the NFC, trailing only Dallas (10-1). They have two more wins than any other wild-card contender, and they go charging into the final five weeks riding a six-game winning streak.
Peyton Manning didn’t just visit with Eli. He watched the walk-through and addressed the team. After the workout he walked off the field chatting with Ben McAdoo. He even pitched a few ideas for the playbook after having faced the Steelers, the Giants’ opponent this week, many times, including last year in the playoffs.
“He had a few tips or ideas that may fit into our system,” Eli Manning said.
For younger Giants receivers who probably have just started to wrap their heads around the normalcy of playing with a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, seeing Peyton put stars back in their eyes.
“That’s big time,” rookie Roger Lewis Jr. said of the encounter.
Fellow rookie Sterling Shepard also was impressed. “I see him every day on TV, he’s got so many commercials,” Shepard said.
He also was shocked by how Peyton seemed to dwarf Eli.
“Eli wasn’t very talkative today,” Shepard said. “I don’t know why. I guess it’s because big brother is in town.”
Peyton’s message to the team was brief and to the point. Cherish these moments, he told them. It’s going to be over at some point, he said. And, the players said, he came right out and admitted that he misses the game.
For Lewis and Shepard, those words likely won’t resonate. They’ve just gotten to the NFL, they don’t want to think about leaving.
But for Eli Manning, it was undoubtedly something else to think about as he heads into the most significant December he’s had in years, as well as the winter of his own career.