EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning today became the first player in the soon-to-be 95-season history of the Giants to report for a 16th training camp. To some, that may seem to be a momentous occasion. But not Manning, who is excited not because he reached a numerical milestone, but because he is as enthusiastic as he is every July to report to camp and begin a new season.
"It feels the same," Manning said. "In the sense that every training camp you come in excited, whether you had a great year the year before or a bad year, it doesn't really matter. It's a clean slate, it's a fresh start. You're going to have new teams, you're going to have new players. Sometimes new coaches in different areas and even the players that you have returning, a lot of it, it's young guys who now are a year older, they are a little better and so it's always going to be a new experience. Just excited to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us this season."
But this camp comes with a new twist for Manning. For the first time since he became the starting quarterback midway through his rookie season in 2004, Manning's likely successor is on the roster – Daniel Jones, the former Duke star selected sixth overall in the NFL Draft. Because of that, Manning's future – both this season and beyond – is more uncertain than it has been in the past.
"I can't make that call, I guess, necessarily," Manning said. "I'm happy to be here and I'm blessed. Excited to be here and standing here today and playing for the New York Giants."
Hall of Famers Mel Hein and Michael Strahan and former quarterback Phil Simms are the only other Giants to play 15 seasons. Manning has played a franchise-record 232 regular-season games. Strahan is second with 216, a full season behind Manning. Given that, it's perfectly reasonable to wonder if Manning is particularly grateful about reaching these numbers.
"I think it's more the longevity of things," he said. "You have more appreciation, you don't know how long you get to play this or how long you get to do it. I think you are here and that you don't know what the future holds. I think when you're younger, you assume you're going to keep playing, you just assume you will be back playing and you don't think about it. Now there is that mindset that you don't know the future of things, which is fine. I think it makes you appreciate being here and wanting to take advantage and prepare more and be ready to take advantage of this opportunity."
That is Manning's way of saying he will respond to any potential competition from Jones as he has to every other challenge that has arisen in his storied career – by working as hard as possible and doing everything he can to help the Giants win football games.
Welcome back! The Giants have arrived at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for the start of training camp
"I think you deal with it in, hey, I have a job to go out there and do my best," Manning said. "It hasn't changed for 16 years and it never will. You go out there and you're competing against the defense. Whenever I'm up, I'm competing against the defense and I'm trying to get our players to play our best and make plays. That's the mindset, you want to try and make improvements in practice, have goals to get better at certain things every day and make those strides of improvement at every practice. That's the mindset that you concern yourself with."
Manning had one of his finest statistical seasons in 2018, despite the Giants' 5-11 record. He completed 380 of 576 passes (66.0%) for 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Manning's completion percentage was a franchise record. His 380 completions were the second-highest total in Giants history. Manning's 11 interceptions were his fewest since he threw 10 in 2008.
Four days after the season ended, Manning turned 38 years old. Must Manning now work harder to prepare for a season, or does his vast experience override that?
"It's just a different working hard," he said. "When you're younger, you're working hard on the mental aspect of things. Hey, I have to learn these protections, I have to learn these blitzes, I have to learn what call I have to make to pick up this blitz. What's this play? You know that stuff that over 16 years you get to learn those things and you have a better feel for picking up a blitz and what call you are going to make to pick up certain things. Now, it's the work on the maintenance and the stretching and getting loose. Keeping the arm strength and keeping the strength and those things. Keeping the body fresh every day. Its more work at that as you get older. The hard work never changes it just kind changes what areas you are working hard at."
Manning still revels in the grind, refining the offense, studying the opposing defense, preparing for an opponent and playing the games. His overriding goal is to reverse the Giants' recent fortunes and enjoy a successful season.
"I feel blessed, feel fortunate to still be doing this and playing football and coming to training camp, being around these teammates and these guys and the New York Giants," he said. "Excited, excited about the opportunities, excited about this team and getting to work. Making improvements and getting better and seeing what this season has in store for us.
"I never got worried about playing a certain amount of years or this or that. It's just all about taking advantage of this year. Making something special with this year, this team, this season."
Because of that, Manning is not in a reflective mood, even in his 16th training camp.
"I try not to reflect much," he said. "It's all about what I can do this year and do right now. I think about the players we have on this team. I want those guys to experience some of the success that we've had here at the Giants in the past. To make playoffs and win championships and get on win streaks. To feel like you are playing better than anybody else in the league at that moment. Those are fun and great memories, but I'm not reflecting on those. I want these guys who maybe haven't had that to experience that."