EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For the last 30 years, Eli Manning has lived to the beat of a football season.
As a youngster it was practice and games. At Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans it began to include offseason workouts. That ritual lengthened and intensified in his three seasons at the University of Mississippi. It reached its apex in his 16-year career with the Giants, when football and its attendant responsibilities on and off the field became a year-long avocation.
That cycle officially ended today, when the two-time Super Bowl winner formally announced his retirement. So, what will the 39-year-old Manning do now?
"I don't know," Manning said during his news conference in the fieldhouse at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. "I think these last few weeks as I made this decision, I really didn't think much about going forward. I think a lot of my time was spent just reflecting on these past 16 years. I talked to a lot of coaches, a lot of former teammates. We had a lot of laughs, a few cries, just about the great moments.
"And so I think my focus has been on that. You know, I look forward to a little downtime. I look forward to spending time with my family, coaching (daughter) Ava's third grade basketball team, assistant coach, and just being involved with my kids and (wife) Abby and getting to do some things that I've missed out on, you know, because of this job and occupation and dedication I gave to it. … I think I'm going to take some time and just enjoy it and then figure out what my next steps are."
One possibility might be remaining a Giants employee. Team president John Mara and Manning have discussed the possibility of the latter working in the organization in an undetermined capacity.
"I think that would be something I would be interested in," Manning said. "I just have to discuss that and talk to Mr. Mara and see in what ways, and I've got to think about in what way. I think, you know, again, I'll take some time and just figure out how I want to spend these next years.
"But this organization, as I said, so many close friends within the organization, and not just the former teammates, but people in all departments of the organization. The faces, they don't change. People don't leave here because of all the wonderful people and the way the organization is run, and they take care of the people here. You do have so many great people that I'd love to be around and be around the people that I call my friends."
Some other highlights from Manning's farewell (as a player):
*On his relationship with Derek Jeter, who this week was one vote shy of being a unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I'm just trying to figure out which one of y'all didn't vote for him," Manning said, generating laughter. "I know there's only one of you, so I know you're probably in here.
"Derek was great. He called me my rookie year when we were starting, lost a few games, and he just talked to me about that it would get easier and stay the course and be yourself and keep working, and things do improve.
"We've had a good relationship over the years. Seen him in several things and stayed in touch somewhat. After that, it was someone who I watched closely and how he conducted himself, how he dealt with the media, how he dealt with fans and how he worked hard and how he stayed humble in all circumstances after so many championships that he's winning. He was on top of the world. You know, I took a lot of notes from how he handled New York, so he's been great role model for me all these years."
*On what it would mean to him to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
"That's not a concern," Manning said. "My focus now is just reliving the great moments and the great memories with my teammates and my family and let everything else work out from there."
*Plaxico Burress, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII, strongly endorses Manning's Hall of Fame candidacy.
"He's a first ballot Hall of Famer to me," Burress said. "There are quarterbacks that are in the Hall of Fame with less. For him to be able to come here and do it twice and to win two Super Bowl MVPs, how many quarterbacks in this league that have played 10, 12 or 15 years, have been able to do that? There are not too many in the world that have ever been able to accomplish that feat, and he did it twice."
*Manning on Daniel Jones, his successor as the Giants' starting quarterback.
"I appreciate a lot of things about him, and the fact that he loves the game of football," Manning said. "He's passionate about it and he works extremely hard, so you appreciate those things. If that weren't the case, it might have been harder to go through this situation, but you see the way he conducts himself, and I think he's got a bright, bright future ahead of him and do so the Giants."
*Jones on what he learned from Manning:
"I learned a ton," Jones said. "Obviously, there are things on the field, there are things in the meeting room I learned. But more than anything, I learned what it's supposed to look like. I learned just how he did it. You kind of watch how he interacted with people. You watch how he works himself. That's an example. There's no better way to learn something than to see it in action and to see it being done every day, consistently, at the highest level in all those aspects. Leadership, being a good teammate, as a player, as a student of the game, all that stuff."
*Manning's father Archie, a former NFL comeback, on Eli and the Giants' late drive to overcome a four-point deficit to defeat 18-0 New England in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.
"I do remember something, and Eli said the same thing, that he thought of what Peyton used to say – 'If you're behind late in the game, you're better off being behind by four," Archie said. "He always said that. I thought about that, and Eli said he did too, because you have to be aggressive. You have to have a touchdown. Peyton always thought that was the best thing, best goal to have, a touchdown and not a field goal and overtime and all that kind of stuff. That was one thing I'll remember about that game."
*That Giants' victory kept the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated team in modern pro football history. The players on that Dolphins team have a tradition of celebrating each season when the last unbeaten team suffers its first loss. In 2007, they had to wait until that Super Bowl. But Eli's heroics ensured that the party was held.
"I got a video the next week from about a dozen Dolphin players," Archie said. "They were all together watching the game at some country club. I think they had had a few. They did a little video and sent it to me. They seemed to be just as happy as the Giants fans were."
*Four-time Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee, who also joined the Giants in 2004, on his close friend Manning:
"The best thing I would want a teammate to say about me is how great of a teammate he was, and that's what Eli was," Snee said. "He honestly was a guy that had my complete trust and everyone else that was on that team as well. Tremendous teammate. You knew what you were going to get week in and week out. You were getting a prepared player that had ice in his veins. Just a guy you would trust. Again, that word. Trust with a game on the line or any adverse situation, which is basically the entire game of football. That was always comforting to me. I just admired his work ethic, and at the same time, how humble he was."
*Snee retired after the 2013 season, so he knows what Manning is about to experience.
"There's no doubt in my mind he'll miss it," Snee said. "But speaking for myself, it got easier year by year. I think what's saving grace for him and was for myself is that he has a great family at home. He'll submerge himself in his kids and probably interfere with Abby's routine, which I did with (wife) Kate. He'll figure out to be quiet and not try to find ways to make things more efficient at the house. It's been a well-oiled machine for years and it'll stay that way. Honestly, just having a strong family at home, that'll eat up hours and hours. He'll enjoy his time with his family and swinging golf clubs.
"But I'll tell you what, come next July, he'll get antsy and he'll miss it for sure. It's hard to adjust. But again, if you have a good family at home to lean on, it'll help just take his mind off of things. The things he'll miss most are the whole journey, the whole watching a team develop from August and the daily routine. He has to find his new routine."
View photos behind the scenes from Eli Manning's retirement day