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Eli Manning's giant legacy defined by 'availability'

ELI-MANNING-TUNNEL

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Start with the 16 seasons and the 248 regular season and postseason games, both Giants records. Move onto the 210 consecutive starts. And the 8,199 passes, 4,895 completions, 57,013 passing yards, and 366 touchdowns in the regular season and 400 throws, 242 completions, 2,815 yards and 18 scores in the postseason. Plus, the two Super Bowl victories and the MVP awards he received in those games.

Those statistics and many others are indicative of Eli Manning's greatness. It's not a collection of numbers but one word that Manning believes best defines his legacy.

"I think just the availability," he said on a Zoom call. "That's something that I probably take the most pride in. Just the fact that I was there week in and week out every week and to never miss a game because of injury or anything else. I think that was always important to me, too. I think the players responded to that. They took great pride in that and as it went on, they didn't want to be – an offensive line didn't want to be part of the group that got Eli hit or injured to miss a game. The games where I was banged up and I had an injury, I think those next weeks they blocked even harder to say, 'Hey, we've got to keep him healthy, and we don't want to make this worse.'

"I think they saw that. They saw that I wanted to be out there and that I wanted to be out there at practice. I think that was hopefully contagious and the other guys were going to be out there to do everything they could to be there. There's only so much you can control playing football. You cannot control the outcome of every single game. There are too many things that are out of your control. But you can control your desire and your heart and your willingness to do whatever it takes to be there for your team, for your organization and for your teammates."

Manning certainly epitomized that in crafting one of the greatest careers in the franchise's 96-year history. But despite those sentiments, this is a numbers story. Or, more precisely, a number story.

On Sunday, the Giants will retire Manning's No. 10 jersey and induct him into their Ring of Honor. His will be the 12th Giants number removed from circulation – Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan's No. 92 will become the 13th on Nov. 28 – and the first since Phil Simms' No. 11 in 1995.

"I appreciate this honor," Manning said. "I know it is extremely special. I think I still try to just think back and think about all of the wonderful times, all the wonderful coaches that I've had in my life, the wonderful teammates that I've had in my life. Without them, without their mentorship, without their friendship and their abilities, this is not possible.

"Even though it is my number, I think it is kind of a celebration of all the teammates and the people who I threw touchdowns to and who blocked for me and the defensive guys who helped us get wins. Football is such a team sport and I always talked about the quarterback probably gets too much credit when you win and maybe too much blame when you lose, as well. It is such an honor just to have played my 16 years with the New York Giants and to be one of the 12 jerseys retired by this storied franchise. It probably hasn't kicked in that it's a reality quite yet."

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Limited Tickets Available for Eli Manning Ceremony

Limited tickets are available for Eli Manning's jersey retirement and Ring of Honor induction game

The Falcons are a fitting opponent on Manning's special day. He made his first career start against them as a rookie on Nov. 21, 2004. And his only home postseason triumph was a 24-2 victory vs. Atlanta in an NFC Wild Card Game on Jan. 8, 2012.

"When I started my first game 17 years ago versus the Falcons, it was not the thought that, 'Hey, my jersey's definitely getting retired with the New York Giants,'" Manning said. "'I've got this thing figured out.' It's just surreal and to go there and travel and go to the game that Week 1 (two weeks ago, his first as a spectator) and see Giants No. 10 jerseys. As I was driving, I always see a couple other friends and teammates' jerseys still around. I take a picture and send it to them. If I see a No. 60 (Shaun O'Hara) or a No. 51 and (Zak) DeOssie or Chris Snee and some of those guys, or Brandon Jacobs, so it's still out there and still a lot of fans. It's going to be special."

Manning was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft and within the hour joined the Giants via a trade with the San Diego Chargers that was engineered by then general manager Ernie Accorsi – who is in the Ring of Honor largely because he made that bold move.

When the deal was consummated, No. 10 was worn by punter Jeff Feagles, who was entering his second Giants season and 17th in the NFL. Manning was immediately involved in another trade, this one to secure the No. 10 he had worn at the University of Mississippi. Feagles, fittingly, took No. 17 and became the answer to the trivia question: who was the last Giants player to wear No. 10 before Eli Manning?

"I remember on the way from where I was drafted, Madison Square Garden, going to Giants Stadium to be welcomed, someone had Feagles on the line and we worked out a deal real quick for a trip to Florida (for the Feagles family)," Manning said. "If it was going to be easy and simple and not a big story, then I said I'd do it, but if it was going to be something outrageous, I probably would've moved on and found another number. I didn't know what was available at the time, but it was very easy. I said if I could keep it, I'd like to keep it and the rest is history."

Manning spent his entire career extending credit to and lavishing praise on his teammates and coaches. But no one influenced his career more than Tom Coughlin, who led the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI in a tenure that stretched from 2004 to 2015.

"I can't say enough great things about coach Coughlin and owe so much of my success to him and just the way he pushed me," Manning said. "He taught me just the importance of preparation and hard work and team above self (and) all the lessons that I learned. I feel that's one of the great honors and privileges that I had was being able to play under him for 12 seasons. We still talk. We still communicate. I still look at him as a mentor and keep him in my life. I've talked with him about (wife) Judy (who has progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disorder) and with everything going on and his life. I've known about it for a long time, and I've seen the struggles that he's going through dealing with that. He all of a sudden has a different role going on right now with him. But I think he, as always, he's been open about it and he's talked about it and he's dealing with it and making the best of it."

Coughlin was perhaps most appreciative of Manning's durability. From that first start vs. Atlanta on Nov. 23, 2017, Manning started 210 consecutive regular-season games, then the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history (to Brett Favre's 297). After sitting out one game, he started the next 22 in a row, giving him 232 starts in 233 games – plus 12 postseason games. Manning never missed a game because of injury.

But he was replaced in Week 3 of the 2019 season by Daniel Jones. Manning started two late-season games when Jones sprained his ankle and was given several rousing ovations in MetLife Stadium, where he led the Giants to a 36-20 victory against Miami in his final game. A little more than a month later, he officially joined the ranks of former players.

"I knew I was ready to retire," Manning said. "That's kind of the only thing I knew was I was done, and I wasn't going to second guess. I wasn't going to look back and worry about it. I knew that I was ready to be done playing football and when I look back on my time, I was just going to reflect on the good moments and the happy moments and the friendships I made, the wins we got to celebrate and remember those things."

Manning, who has four children, took a gap year in which he coached their teams, relaxed and thought about what his next chapter would include. Naturally, football is a big part of it. He formally rejoined the Giants organization, where he has roles in – but not limited to - community and corporate relations and fan engagement. He hosts Eli's Places, in which he travels to some of the most famous and historic sites in college football, on ESPN+. And Manning and his brother Peyton star in an alternative Monday Night Football telecast that has become a hit in just two weeks.

"I still do commercials and have time for that," Manning said. "Those are always enjoyable, especially if I can do some with my family or with my brothers. I think those are always a way to not take yourself too seriously and a way to show your personality and that was how I did it a little bit while I was playing. Now, I think it's another way just to continue showing the lighter side of things.

"I've enjoyed coaching my kids in some of their sports leagues and I'm enjoying kind of getting back into the game this fall kind of with the Giants and through doing Monday Night Football with Peyton. I'm enjoying getting a little taste of it and slowly getting back into it, but not having to give all the time that I used to have to give."

Manning's opportunities are a result, in part, of the brilliant work he did for the Giants for 16 years. On Sunday, the fans will thank him one more time in what is certain to be a poignant afternoon.

"It's going to be a very emotional day and kind of one last farewell to all those fans wearing No. 10 and all of them that supported me during my time with the Giants and continued to support me," Manning said. "I just appreciate their loyalty and their support through all these years."

And they are thankful for everything Manning did for the Giants and the community.

Fans are encouraged to remain in their seats at halftime to watch Eli Manning's Ring of Honor induction and jersey retirement ceremony. Fans at home can watch the ceremony live on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and GiantsTV streaming app.

Photos from the career of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning