Some people took Eli Manning for granted, but history won't view that fact as a slight. It will be a sign of respect.
Eli was Eli was Eli for 16 seasons. His consistency, on and off the field, never left a doubt. He became a given. If the Giants were playing, Eli was, too. The two-time Super Bowl MVP will formally announce his retirement on Friday, closing the book on a storied career.
There are many reasons why coaches, teammates and, of course, fans love him. Here, we boil it down to these five pillars:
He is a winner.
Eli Manning once said, "In New York, they like winners. They don't like second place." Above all, Manning delivered two world championships among his 125 career victories. He is also:
• One of five players in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards (Tom Brady, four; Joe Montana, three; Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr, two apiece).
• One of six quarterbacks with at least 100 victories and two Super Bowl triumphs with the same team, joining Bradshaw, Brady, Montana, John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger.
• One of 21 quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl without losing one.
Nothing rattles him.
Whether it was a big game, a hard hit or an annoying question, Manning always responded in the same cool and confident manner. Manning has five game-winning drives in the playoffs. He is one of four quarterbacks since the 1970 merger to accomplish that feat, joining Brady, Elway and Montana. In 2011, Manning set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. The previous record of 14 was set by Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas in 1959 and tied by Peyton Manning (2002).
"I learned very early that you evaluate quarterbacks on their ability to win championships, and to do it late in a game when the game is on the line, that they're able to take a team down the field and into the end zone to win a title," said former general manager Ernie Accorsi, who traded for Manning in the 2004 NFL Draft. "The second thing is to know that over a period of years, he's always going to be there. Those kinds of quarterbacks always give you a chance to win, and for 16 years, he did that for this franchise. He won championships and he was always there giving us a chance to win. I don't know how you can ask more from a quarterback."
He takes the blame and defers the praise.
If a reporter wanted to know who was speaking the day after games, it was easy to know with Manning. If the team lost, he would address the media. If they won, he did not. That's all you need to know about him.
The only exception to the rule was after the Super Bowls. He had to give a press conference in accepting the MVP award. Even then, he deferred the accolades.
"A championship is a championship. Each one is special. Each one has special moments during the season and, obviously, different teammates," Manning said after Super Bowl XLVI. "This year, I am just happy for a number of guys getting a championship, whether it's rookies, whether it's offensive players. Hakeem Nicks getting his first championship, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz. Those guys weren't a part of that last championship, so (I'm) happy for those guys.
"Rocky Bernard on defense is a guy who has played a long, long time. He has lost a Super Bowl. Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, those guys who had opportunities to win before, have had great careers and never got the opportunity to say they are world champions and have that feeling in a locker room after winning a Super Bowl. I am happy for a number of guys on this team. I know that they are excited, and that's why you play. You play for your teammates, you play for your coaches, the organization. To give them that opportunity for these next five or six months, we can say, 'Hey, we are the best. We are the champs.' That's a pretty nice feeling."
He is tough (and funny) as hell.
In this writer's humble opinion, the 2011 NFC Championship Game epitomized everything about Manning. That stout 49ers defense hit him a dozen times, but the only sign of that was his muddy jersey. It spoke to his toughness. He kept playing every snap without showing any signs of the Niners' assault. Manning started 210 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history. Only Brett Favre (297) started more consecutive games than Manning.
"I can't tell you what that means to a coach, to be able to prepare every week knowing your starter is going to be there," Tom Coughlin said. "It's almost impossible today to be able to do that. Some teams are fortunate. Many teams it doesn't happen to. You get a guy nicked, you get him hurt. I remember once he was hurt with a shoulder. He didn't practice all week. We didn't know if he'd be alright. He started and played the whole game and played well. It meant a great deal to us to be able to prepare knowing he was going to be on the field and be the starting quarterback for all of those games."
Additionally, whether it was in the locker room or in Studio 8H, the world discovered that his wit matched his toughness.
"You talk about a guy that's great to coach, focused every day, took tremendous pride in preparing, practice, had a great sense of humor, was a cynic in the locker room," Coughlin said. "But the guys loved him and they loved him for it, and they played for him. The guys that had the opportunity to play with him know what it's like to be with a guy with as much talent, as much grit, as much determination."
He is a Giant among Giants.
Every team claims to have a "way." It's a nebulous term, but Manning gives it clarity. He epitomizes what every owner, general manager, coach, scout and fan could want in their player.
"For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field," said John Mara, the Giants' president and chief executive officer. "Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise's history. He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future."
"We are proud to have called Eli Manning our quarterback for so many years," said Steve Tisch, Giants chairman and executive vice president. "Eli was driven to always do what was best for the team. Eli leaves a timeless legacy with two Super Bowl titles on the field and his philanthropic work off the field, which has inspired and impacted so many people. We are sincerely thankful for everything Eli has given our team and community. He will always be a Giant among Giants."