EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – During his 16 years in a Giants uniform, Eli Manning made thousands of decisions about play selection, pass protections and where to throw the football. Now that he's moved to the organization's front office, the choices keep coming. And Manning has already answered his first big question: backpack or briefcase?
"I think I've got to go backpack," Manning said. "I did it for so long. It's going to be weird; I used to get here so early, before six o'clock. I never thought about, like, brushing my hair before showing up to work or doing anything. Just got to get up, get here, your breakfast is here. So, it's going to be a little different. I'm going to have to show up not wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt every single day. But I'll fit into that role and be excited to be here."
Manning was a two-time Super Bowl winner and MVP and a four-time Pro Bowler. He owns most of the Giants' single-game, single-season and career passing records and is arguably the most popular player in the franchise's 96-year history. Manning retired following the 2019 season and after a year spent mostly with his wife, Abby, and their four children, he has returned to the Giants, with an office that has a view of MetLife Stadium and duties encompassing business development, marketing, and community and corporate relations.
"I wanted to take a year off anyway," Manning said. "That was the game plan to analyze what you want to do, analyze how busy you want to be, how involved you want to be, just to give the players a break, let the coaches have a fresh start and let Daniel Jones have his fresh start. But I was hoping there would be a spot back with the organization to do the things because of what it's meant to me. The Giants organization is what I know. Since I've been out of college, this is all I've done and all I've ever wanted to do was do well for the Giants and win games and represent the organization in a positive way, and hopefully I can continue to do that."
Because of COVID-19 restrictions during the 2020 season, Manning was unable to visit the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Though he conferred with Jones, his successor at quarterback, Manning did not have an opportunity to discuss a new role with ownership until after the season.
"I was finally allowed in and I came in and saw a lot of the people," he said. "I sat down with John Mara and kind of said, 'Hey, I'd like to get back involved if you think there's a spot for me or a way that I can help out.' From there, we did some brainstorming and figured out a way for me to get back involved.
"I'm excited that I get to hold true that 'Once a Giant, only a Giant' (the phrase Manning coined at his retirement news conference). I wanted to be back here with the organization. I had a little break; I think both sides needed a little parting. But I'm excited to team back up with the Giants and help out in any way they feel they need it. Most of it will be on the business side and be with the sponsors and marketing and corporate stuff and the community service, which has been so important to me."
Soon after he starts, Manning will be honored by the organization for his great work on the field. On Sept. 26, at halftime of the Giants game against the Atlanta Falcons in MetLife, Manning's No. 10 jersey will be retired, and he will become the 43rd inductee into the team's Ring of Honor.
"I think it'll be great," Manning said. "To have a full crowd and one final, I guess, goodbye and thank you to the fans. Because they're the ones that make it all happen and they supported me my whole career. I think it's fitting the Giants are playing the Falcons, who I had my first start against back in '04. Obviously, it's a great honor. But really, to get to do it with teammates and family and around the fans and the organization - those are the people that made this all happen, and it's been a fun ride and it'll be a great final farewell."
Last fall was the first in which Manning did not play football since he was a pre-teen in New Orleans. But boredom and inactivity never hampered his enjoyment.
"You find ways to stay busy," Manning said. "Four kids (the three oldest are girls) keep you busy. A lot of coaching. I coached three girls basketball teams, I coached a softball team for my middle girl. I've been to a lot of lacrosse tournaments, watched some swim meets and I enjoy that. You don't get to see your kids in school, see how they interact with all their friends. I think to see them in sports and see how they handle the ups and downs – and we keep it very fun and keep it exciting and don't get too involved – but just to see them playing sports and outside and with their buddies and smiling is a great reward for me.
"It's been fun. I've enjoyed it, but the wife finally said, 'Alright, you gotta get back to work, you gotta get out of the house, you're cramping my style a little bit.' So, Abby's making me get back into the office and do some real work."
Manning, 40, had to establish a new schedule after spending the last quarter century in the familiar routine of meetings, practices and games. But being home and no longer wearing a helmet and shoulder pads was neither strange nor sad.
"I think I was just ready," Manning said. "I was ready to be done, I was ready to be retired. I think the fact that I wasn't allowed to watch a practice or I wasn't allowed to come and be around training camp or even go to an actual football game probably helped the transition a little bit. But I was at peace with my decision when I decided to retire, that I was ready to be done playing football. I think that made it easy for me to watch the Giants on T.V. and watch football games because I wasn't bitter, I wasn't saying, 'Hey, I should be out there, I'm good enough to be out there.' I was just saying, 'Hey, I did my time, I played, I gave it all to the team and to the organization and now I'm ready just to be a fan.' And I am a Giants fan, so I watched every game, rooted for them every game, pulled for them, so I'll continue to do that."
Though he will no longer play on the field, Manning looks forward to visiting MetLife Stadium in a new capacity.
"I've never watched a Giants game in person with my kids or with my family," Manning said. "Going to a game and getting them in their jerseys and cheering with the fans and cheering for touchdowns and celebrating victories again, that's something I look forward to. I did it growing up, going to games with my brothers. My dad (Archie) was doing some announcing for the Saints. I actually didn't get to watch too many games with him, but I went to a lot of games and I think to be able to do that and have my kids know what it's like to go to games and get to be there with them, that's something I am excited about."
While Manning's mind is at ease, his body is pain-free. In 248 regular-season and postseason games, Manning threw 8,519 passes and was sacked 438 times. Those figures don't include practice throws and the countless other hits he absorbed. After 16 NFL seasons, coaching girls basketball was a walk-through in the park.
"It's weird waking up every single day feeling good," Manning said. "It's like, alright, I can hop out of bed every day. It's funny, when you play you wake up on a Monday or sometimes even Tuesday, you're kind of like, 'Alright, let's see how I'm going to feel today. Let's see if I'll be able to walk. What's going to hurt?' Not to have that was a pretty good feeling, so I'm not complaining about that."
Contributing to the Giants' front office will not be Manning's only job. He has begun work on "Eli's Places," a college football version of older brother Peyton's show on ESPN+, which revisits important moments in NFL history through discussions with former players, coaches and other key figures.
"I've been traveling - Alabama and Oklahoma and Baton Rouge and New Jersey to Rutgers, so been moving around and doing it and having fun with that as well," Manning said. "I think it's been good. Love college football and its whole history, and it's been fun learning about the history of it and how it started. Just talking to some of the great coaches and seeing some of the great towns where these colleges have had so much success, it's been a lot of fun doing that."
As a player, Manning was famous for his consistently successful locker room pranks. A favorite was changing the language on a teammate's mobile phone. Now that he's gone corporate, will Manning still show his fun-loving side?
"I don't see why not," Manning said. "I guess I've got to be careful, I've got to make sure I don't mess up anything too much. But obviously I know a lot of people in the organization, have great relationships and great friendships with a lot of the people that I'll be working with and around, so I hope that we'll be able to have fun and enjoy each other's company, but do great work and help out the organization."
Once a Giant, always a Giants. And for Eli Manning, once a prankster, always a prankster.
Giants legend Eli Manning has officially rejoined the organization in a business operations and fan engagement role.