By Lenn Robbins
At his last official press conference as a Giant, Eli Manning presented one side of the best love affairs New York has ever had with one of its athletes.
“It’s impossible to explain the satisfaction, and actually the joy I’ve experienced being a Giant,’’ he said Friday.
There’s no question he loved donning that red, white and blue No. 10 jersey. No doubt he felt playing quarterback was the greatest gig on Earth and this was the place to do it.
Manning made that clear prior to the 2004 when he let it be known he had no intention of playing in San Diego. He wanted New York.
This laidback son of the South, who had to navigate his way out of the shadow of his father, Archie, and his older brother, Peyton, now wanted to take on New York, not with a bullhorn or a billboard, but with himself.
“From the very first moment, I did it my way,’’ Manning said Friday at his retirement press conference. “I couldn’t be someone other than who I am.
“Undoubtedly, I would’ve made the fans, the media and even the front office more comfortable if I was a more rah-rah guy. But that’s not me. Ultimately, I choose to believe that my teammates and the fans learned to appreciate that. They knew what they got was pure, unadulterated Eli.”
And wasn’t that marvelous? No ranting at an offensive coordinator on the sideline. No dodging the media. No suggesting a teammate had missed his assignment.
Elisha Nelson Manning IV.put himself out there. We took him in. Pure, unadulterated Eli.
Accountable. Predictable. Dependable.
Despite being listed as 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, Manning always seemed smaller in his high school, wide receiver-sized shoulder pads. He had seasons in which he took more pounding than a crash test dummy. Never missed a game due to injury.
Consider the circumstance in which Manning arrived in New York. He forced that trade with the Chargers, which owned the No.1 pick in the draft. The Giants sent the No.4 overall pick and a slew of other picks to San Diego in exchange for Manning.
That’s the closest Manning came to being a prima donna. And really, if you’re intent on becoming a star quarterback, what better place to do it than New York?
When one considers the enormity of that trade, the odds of it becoming a success (for both franchises) was lower than the odds of it being a colossal failure – especially in the Big Apple where everything is bigger.
Manning, with his aw-shucks persona, made it in New York because he didn’t try to be anything other than authentic, which is what hooks a New Yorker every time.
He put on no airs, demanded no special treatment, didn’t romp around the city with a flock of Victoria’s Angels – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t Eli.
He married his beautiful Ole Miss college sweetheart Abby McGrew. They were married in Mexico, just a couple of months after Eli handed the Pats a stunning defeat in Super Bowl XLII. They have four children.
“When we have the whole family together, maybe bath time when I have both kids in the bathtub and they start splashing each other and making each other laugh. That usually gives me my biggest smile — when I see both my girls interacting with each other,” Manning told Parade magazine in 2014.
This is something all the Manning boys – Cooper, Eli and Peyton – got from parents Archie and Olivia: Being a good family man, a good neighbor, a good teammate is more important that being a quarterback.
But Eli did that, too. The Giants need a new quarterback section in the record book. Manning threw for 57,023 yards and 366 touchdowns in 16 seasons. He’s one of just five players to have won Super Bowl MVP honors multiple times.
“He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability,’’ Giants owner John Mara said in a statement. “It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.”
Honor. So often our star athletes turn out to be less than what we built them up to be. There’s the arrest on accusations of spousal abuse, or the old Facebook post containing racist comments, or the video of a drunken fool outside of a bar at 4 a.m.
Not Eli Manning. Never Eli Manning.
He gave us his side of the story Friday – “the joy I’ve experienced being a Giant.”
The other side of the story is ours to tell: The joy we experienced watching a helluva quarterback and an authentic man give us everything he had for 16 seasons.