Football is the game that courses through the Manning family, but it is golf that enables Archie Manning to enjoy competitive fun with his three sons. Cooper, Peyton and Eli Manning usually find time in their busy lives to schedule a trip with their dad. They recently started a long-distance discussion to set up the logistics of their next round knowing that Peyton Manning might have some additional free time to work with.
“There had been some e-mails going around trying to plan a golf trip in the spring,” Eli Manning said today. “My response was, ‘I guess I’m the only person who has spring practice to worry about this offseason.’ When I saw (Peyton, the weekend before last) he kind of acknowledged that, He didn’t respond to the e-mail, but he did acknowledge to me that I was taking a shot at him. I kind of had a sense it might be happening.”
It happened today. At a news conference in Denver, Peyton Manning announced his retirement, ending his storied 18-year career. The most prolific passer in NFL history, Manning leaves the game exactly one month after his final game, the Broncos’ 24-10 defeat of the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Peyton talked about how much he will miss football. Soon after he left the stage, Eli discussed how different it will be for him without Peyton in the NFL.
“I’ll definitely miss him playing football,” said Eli, who is almost five years younger than his brother. “I’ll miss getting home after a one o’clock game and watching his afternoon game on T.V. with friends and family; hopefully both of us get to celebrate wins. I’ll miss watching him play, I’ll miss talking football during the week or talking about a common opponent that we might be playing, or just calling him on the bus when we both had away games. We’d talk about how their game went or the circumstances of the game or how it played out, or a funny thing that happened. I’ll definitely miss some of those things.
“But I am happy for him. I am happy, obviously, for him winning a championship and getting to go out being happy about how the last season ended. You don’t get to have those feelings very often, to end your football career on a positive note. It is special. I am happy that he was able to kind of go out on his own terms. I know it was tough for him, but I’m proud of the way he handled today. I thought he did a great job up there in his speech. You could see that it’s going to be tough for him, but I think it is good timing and he’s getting out at the right time.”
Eli – who didn’t travel to Denver because he’s been battling a stomach bug - thought Peyton would end his career, but he wasn’t certain until he received a text from his brother late last week.
“Just telling me that he was going to probably have a press conference on Monday announcing it,” Manning said. “We had not talked about it kind of straight up. I was with him over the weekend prior to that, and nothing came up. I didn’t ask him, but I kind of had a feeling it had been on his mind.”
Eli made several public appearances in San Francisco the week before the Super Bowl, and at each one he was asked if he thought Peyton would retire. At each one, he politely demurred, saying he didn’t know. But a brother’s intuition told him Super Bowl 50 would likely be Peyton’s final game.
“I guess I sensed that it was maybe coming to an end,” Eli said. “I didn’t know for sure, but I just saw that he wasn’t the same quarterback that he’s been, even from the year before. Hey, that can happen. You get injured (Peyton missed six games with a torn plantar fascia) and injuries can make a season tough. You get injuries and you’re 39, it’s just hard to recover. The recovery process takes longer, and has a greater impact on your play than when you’re 33 or 35. Just wasn’t quite the same from just being as being productive as he’s been. I thought he gave it his all, and it was a good time and a good opportunity to get out.”
Eli has said many times that he never gets nervous playing football. But watching his brother play? Well, that’s different, particularly when it’s the Super Bowl and likely the end of a 293-game run (including 27 in the postseason).
“Yeah, I was nervous,” Manning said. “I was pretty tense most of the game, just because it was tough. There was nothing easy coming to their offense. They had a nice drive to start with, but after that, it was tough to get first downs and move it. You saw Denver’s defense playing outstanding. I was nervous for him. I was kind of right there with him the whole time, and wanted him to get that win and for the Broncos to get that win.”
Like millions of football fans, Eli wondered if his brother would get another opportunity to play in any game, much less the Super Bowl. After Peyton hurt his foot, Brock Osweiler took over and led the Broncos to four victories. But when he struggled in the regular-season finale, Peyton – for the only time in his career – appeared in relief, and the Broncos beat San Diego to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Manning kept his job through the postseason.
“I guess as you saw the season going, you saw them playing well,” Eli said. “You knew they were a good football team. They were winning games…he wasn’t playing great. The new offense, you knew it was going to take a little time for him to get adjusted, get comfortable. They were kind of winning football games while he was getting comfortable, then he gets injured. I didn’t know if he was going to play again. You kind of see it where, ‘Hey, this is it.’ He’s not playing, Brock’s playing. It’s the last game of the season, they’re going to win the division, probably. This could be the end of his career and not playing football - being injured and not in there. Just to see him get that opportunity to come in the last game of the season in the fourth quarter, and kind of get the team going and get them back on track, and know he was going to get to start the playoffs. To take that opportunity and to run with it and go win a championship with it was fun to see.”
Each Manning brother has won two Super Bowls. Peyton Manning owns more than 20 NFL records, including touchdown passes for a single season (55 in 2013) and career (539), and passing yards for a season (5,477 in 2013) and career (71,940). But those aren’t the statistics that most impress Eli Manning.
“The numbers are incredible,” Eli said. “You throw yardage out, you don’t even know what to compare it to. You don’t know what it all means. I think when you see seven years in a row of having 12 wins in a season, that’s called dominating a league, and not just for a short period of time. That’s a long time, and that’s a lot of games to win and consistently doing that - that’s an impressive feat. Being able to go to a new organization and win a division four years in a row and have the most wins. It’s the wins. Winning football games year in and year out, that’s tough to do. With free agency and new players and with different coaches and different things going on, to consistently have your team winning that many games, that’s impressive.”
Eli and ESPN today released a video tribute to his brother, which he put together when he was in San Francisco for the Super Bowl. The video includes footage of the Manning brothers as young boys and highlights from Peyton’s career. It concludes with Eli saying he knows where Peyton is going – to Ohio (the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
Peyton is not just a big brother to Eli – he is a close friend and treasured mentor.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” Eli said. “Seeing his preparation, and not during the season. I see his preparation in the offseason. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in-season. Just being with him in February or in March, just the determination to get a workout in every day. We may be on a trip, we may be on vacation or on a golf trip. It might be, ‘Hey, let’s get up at five in the morning to get a workout in.’ Or, ‘Let’s do it after the full day of work or after shooting a commercial, let’s do it at 7 p.m. Let’s find a field in this town. Let’s scope it out, talk to the people with the hotel so we can find a field to go throw. It’s a willingness and a determination to get your work in. Just the studying, thinking about what he wants to change, what he needs to improve on, having those goals that he wants to accomplish each year. Just the mindset that he had about his job, about what he was trying to improve on. It was not a seasonal deal, it was a year-round commitment to it. You just saw the mindset. This is the determination. This is the commitment that you have to have if you want to be a good player.”
Although they were extremely busy during football season, the Manning brothers frequently found time to talk to each other.
“We tried to get in touch with each other after every game, whether it was on Sunday evening or Monday sometime, maybe Monday night,” Eli said. “Just kind of talk about what was going on. Maybe later in the week, (we would) also chat. If you had a Monday night game or a Sunday night game, everything gets thrown off a little bit. We used to talk when we were driving to work in the morning, on a Wednesday or Thursday morning. Or driving home in the afternoon after practice. Friday afternoons was kind of our time to talk a lot, since we were both driving home. We’d get done around three-four o’clock on a Friday and we’d be driving home having a little chat. With the time change since (Peyton moved to) Denver, we probably have not talked as much on the phone. We’d call and kind of do our conversation in voicemails a little bit more often than what it had been in years previous, because those two hours made a big difference in our schedule. You kind of have your window when you can talk and we never quite got on a great schedule there.”
Eli Manning is preparing for his 13th season with the Giants – and first without his brother getting ready for another 16-game grind. He admits that Peyton’s retirement has caused him to reflect on his own football mortality, though he expects his announcement to be far off in the future.
“You understand each year you’re kind of reminded that someday it will end,” Eli said, “just having the privilege it is to go in that locker room and go out there on game day and get to play this game - it is an honor, it is a great privilege, and you want to take advantage of it. You don’t want to waste a day not trying to get better in some way to make the most of it. I think it’s always a reminder when you see teammates or players or other people retire or have to stop playing. But I think when you see your big brother, it probably hits a little bit stronger. Just a reminder that you want to take full advantage of it and have no regrets about your career.”
Just as Peyton has none about his.