Three Giants.com writers share their favorite memories of Eli Manning, who called it a career during a special retirement ceremony on Friday.
John Schmeelk: I wrote a story last week about my best memories of Eli Manning and they have nothing to do with anything he did on the football field. But since I already expressed my feelings about Manning as a person, I'll use this to talk about what I'll remember about him as a player.
While everyone talks about Manning's heroics in the Super Bowls, I will never forget the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field on January 20, 2008. The game started with temperatures at -1 degree and a -23 degree wind chill. It only got colder as the game was played into the early evening.
In those conditions, Eli Manning gave what I think was the best performance of his career. He played like it was 40 degrees warmer, completing 21 of 40 passes for 251 yards and no fumbles or interceptions against the 11th ranked defense in the NFL. Finding his top target Plaxico Burress against AL Harris again and again, the Giants offense punted just four times and scored 23 points in an overtime win.
I was outside for about 15 minutes in the afternoon before the sun went down that day, and ice crystals were already forming in my nose and my hands were numb. I still don't know how Eli was able to grip and spin the ball like he did.
My other memory is less specific. The 2011 Super Bowl team was very different than the group that won in 2007. Manning led a team with the 32nd ranked rushing attach and the 27th ranked defense by putting the team on his back. His fourth quarter stats that season were nothing short of special.
In regular season fourth quarters, Manning completed 66% of his passes for 1,715 yards, with 15 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He accumulated all of that in what was the equivalent of four games worth of playing time. He was the reason the Giants made the playoffs at all, and they never would have won the Super Bowl without him.
Those two memories show what made Manning special: not an accumulation of regular season statistics, but rather his superior play in the most critical and adverse situations possible. That's what I'll remember about him.
Dan Salomone: Easy. January 22, 2012. Candlestick Park. It was my second season with the team, first year traveling (you're welcome). I have never been in one, but I'm going to take a leap and say high school press boxes in Texas are nicer than the one in the 49ers' old stadium, Candlestick Park. I had rain dripping down on my laptop through a crack in the ceiling, but I kept typing. Just like Eli kept getting back up. We basically showed the same grit in that NFC Championship Game.
Peyton described his performance perfectly: "You talk about hard to watch your brother get basically pulverized by this 49ers front. This is back before they were calling the 'drive' rule [to protect quarterbacks]. The Smith brothers, Aldon and Justin, were just taking turns. 'Hey, I'm bored with hitting him. You go hit him this time.' He kept getting up, kept getting up, throws a couple of clutch touchdowns. They win the game and now they've got to play the Patriots again."
The game had a little bit of everything, including a Giants postseason record 58 passes (tied for eighth-most in NFL history) and even a touchdown to Bear Pascoe. Manning's muddied jersey and a chinstrap not on his chin were the lasting images from mthat game. We quickly forget things when it comes to losers in sports, but that 49ers defense was no joke. They smacked every Giant in the face from the first snap, but the Giants responded. From who do you think they took that cue?
Lance Medow: I wanted to challenge myself a bit with respect to this response. It's so easy to simply pick a moment or game from the Giants' two Super Bowl runs with Eli Manning as quarterback. Plus, what have you not read about or re-watched over the last few days from those runs? Instead, I perused every one of his regular season starts to refresh my memory and the one game that kept jumping out was a performance in a heartbreaking loss.
In Week 8 of the 2015 season, Eli and the Giants traveled to his hometown of New Orleans to face the Saints in what turned out to be one of the most exciting regular season games in NFL history. It also marked arguably the best performance of Manning's career. In a back and forth battle with Drew Brees, both quarterbacks combined for an NFL-record 13 passing touchdowns with Eli accounting for six to go along with 350 passing yards and no interceptions. Eli went toe to toe with Brees and helped the Giants overcome three different 14-point deficits.
It was one of the wildest games I've witnessed and there's no better way to describe that affair than an offensive clinic. Momentum constantly shifted and there were so many game-changing plays, including a Trumaine McBride pick-six in the fourth quarter to give the Giants a brief 49-42 lead (yes, there was actually some defense in this game). The Saints ultimately outlasted the Giants, 52-49, (third highest scoring game in NFL history) thanks to a Kai Forbath 50-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, but despite the loss, it still stands out to me as one of the most memorable performances of Eli's tenure with the Giants. It's not just the stats. This game was a microcosm of Eli's career in my mind. He kept battling, helped rally his team and went mano a mano with one of the best quarterbacks in league history.