EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Eli Manning has been immersed in learning the Giants' new offense this spring, but at home he's already familiar with the game plan.
Manning is famous for his exploits on the football field, but it is the private moments at home with Abby and daughters Ava (3) and Lucy (who's about to turn one) that he most savors.
"I consider being the father of my two girls the most important role that I have," Manning said.
Manning has always been guarded about his private life. But this week, in conjunction with Father's Day, he was in Manhattan with Abby and Ava – "Lucy couldn't make the travels, (it's) a little too much for her" – at an event sponsored by Oral-B and the March of Dimes (an organization that has long been supported by Manning).
When he leaves the Quest Diagnostics Training Center after a day of work, Manning goes home to two daughters who can't wait to play with him.
"We do a lot of dancing," he said. "(We) have dance parties at the house with Ava and Lucy.
"When I'm at the Giants facility I'm focused on football and I'm focused on learning this offense, practicing, getting better, being with my teammates. I might be staying there after practice a little bit longer to kind of get my preparation, because I know once I get home, if my kids are awake, there's no sitting around and doing studying then. It's all about being with them and being outside and playing and doing games. And then once they go to bed, I'm still doing a lot of preparation at night getting ready for that next practice. It almost feels like I'm in-season right now, the work that's going on, getting prepared for each day's practice."
Manning has spent his career standing in the pocket, but at home he's often scrambling, either running after Ava or being chased by her.
"It's fun, I enjoy it, I enjoy being active, coming home and getting to move around and chase her around and get involved in some sports," he said. "She's starting to play a little soccer, played some tennis, so she enjoys being outside, she enjoys being with her friends and being active. I'm excited about that and that's great. I'm enjoying every moment I've been able to have and some of the things they say and do that catch you by surprise and give you a good laugh."
Manning does a good job of separating his football and personal lives, so he hasn't been tempted to read Ava and Lucy his playbook before they fall asleep.
"No, I'm reading them just regular bedtime stories," he said. "I still have time to do that, so I still have time to be a father, do my duties as a father and enjoy being with my daughters, enjoying the summer and being outside in the great weather. I'm enjoying all of those activities. You just have to manage, just like anything, your time and understand what your commitments are during the week, so you're getting enough time to do your job well but also to be a good father."
That's a lesson Manning learned from another famous quarterback – his father Archie, who played in the NFL from 1971-84. Eli was just four years old when his dad retired, so he doesn't recall anything about his career. But the youngest of Archie and Olivia's three sons didn't need his advice about playing quarterback.
"My dad played in the NFL for 14 years and he's been a great role model for me," Manning said. "A lot of people would think that his influence would mostly be about football but really, his greatest impact on me was that he was a great father and there for me and my two brothers (Cooper and Peyton). That had the greatest impact on me on being a father to my two little girls. Some of my great memories with my dad are just being outside, running around in our front yard. We used to play a game called 'amazing catches' between me and my brothers, whoever was in the neighborhood, any kids. He would start throwing passes just outside our reach where we would have to dive for it to make these great, one-handed, amazing catches. It's one of the great memories I have with my dad. Ava is not quite ready for the amazing catches game right now, but we're working toward it."
Not surprisingly, Manning's memories of his childhood Father's Days include sports.
"Coming into summer, I think we were playing a lot of baseball this time of year," he said. "I think we had a lot of Father's Days in small towns around Louisiana at baseball tournaments. I think we tried getting together for a dinner or for a lunch, kind of have some gathering outside eating some crawfish. I think we always tried to have some sort of come together and celebrate Father's Day.
"I always call my dad (On Father's Day) and try to send him something. A lot of the gifts are golf-related. He plays a lot of golf, so I'll send him a golf shirt, send him some golf balls, send him a new putter or something. I always take care of him on Father's Day."
Manning was raised in a household in which his mom was the only female. Now he is the only man in his house.
"Yeah, boys to girls," he said. "Abby has two sisters and then her mom comes and then you've got like six-on-one of all women, so … sometimes I can take the dog out for a walk. I don't have a man cave, so it is a little bit different, but it's been a lot of fun."
And what do the girls have planned for this Father's Day?
"I think my wife might have something up her sleeve for me, but I think it'll be pretty low-key," he said. "I have nothing set, nothing planned, just spend it with my family, go to lunch and playing outside during the day."
Sounds like a perfect day.
Photos from Eli Manning Father's Day Event