EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning knew when the Giants' season ended on Dec. 29 that he had played his last football game. But he wanted to wait for the right time before formally announcing his retirement.
That time was today.
Manning brought the curtain down on his momentous 16-year career at an emotional ceremony and news conference in the fieldhouse at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, where team president John Mara said, "no Giant will ever wear No. 10 again." Mara also said, "you will always be the ultimate Giant, and we would be honored to induct you into our Ring of Honor next season."
After stating he wanted to be neither a reserve quarterback nor a coach, and ruling out wearing another uniform, Manning was left with retirement, an option he is perfectly comfortable with.
"I might have rushed into (the decision) a little bit because I knew it was the right thing to do," Manning said. "I knew 100 percent I'm not going to have - I'm not going to regret this. When I make a decision, I commit to it and make it the right decision. This is it and this is the right one. It's an honor to have played here 16 years and to have only played here."
No other player in the 95-year history of the franchise wore a Giants uniform for that long. No one played as many games (236 in the regular season without ever missing one due to injury). He is the only Giants player to win two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, which he earned in the Giants' victories against the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XXLII and XLVI. A four-time Pro Bowler, Manning set more than 20 franchise records and earned the universal admiration of teammates, coaches, support staff, opponents and fans.
"I hope that I've represented the organization in the way that you wanted me to from my first day to my last," Manning said. "For most of my life, people have called me Easy. Believe me, there is nothing easy about today. Wellington Mara always said, 'Once a Giant, always a Giant.' For me, it's only a Giant."
Manning spent most of his final season as a backup to rookie Daniel Jones, fueling speculation that he might seek a starting job with another team this year. That was never a serious consideration and had Manning expressed an interest in suiting up for another team, Mara, a former attorney, might have sought an injunction to prevent it.
"This is certainly a day of very mixed emotions for us," Mara said. "It's sad in one sense because we're seeing the end of an incredible playing career, and saying goodbye to someone who has been everything you could ask a player to be both on and off the field for the last 16 years.
"Yet, we're also very happy because we get to be here to celebrate that incredible career and we're also able to witness one of the greatest players in franchise history be able to leave the game on his home terms, having played his whole career as a Giant, something that doesn't always happen in this business. And if anybody deserved that opportunity, it's Eli Manning."
View photos behind the scenes from Eli Manning's retirement day
The love and respect Manning engendered was evident by the legions of associates who were part of his journey that wanted to take this final step with him. They included David Cutcliffe, his coach at Ole Miss (and Jones' at Duke); Ernie Accorsi, the general manager who traded for him during the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft; and Tom Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach who held that position for the first 12 seasons of Manning's career. Former teammates such as Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara, Zak DeOssie and Jeff Feagles were in attendance, as were members of the 2019 team, including Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Jones. Assistant coaches Mike Sullivan, Ryan Roeder, Pat Flaherty and Thomas McGaughey, Giants greats Phil Simms and Hall of Famer Harry Carson, and new Giants coach Joe Judge also were present.
Manning's parents, Archie and Olivia, were in the front row, as were his wife, Abby, and children Ava, Lucy, Caroline and Charlie.
"It's impossible to explain the satisfaction, actually the joy, I've experienced being a Giant," Manning said. "From the very first moment, I did it my way. I couldn't be someone other than who I am. Undoubtedly, I would have made the fans, the media, even the front office more comfortable if I was a more rah-rah guy, but that's not me.
"Ultimately, I truly believed my teammates and the fans learned to appreciate that. They knew what they got was pure, unadulterated Eli. I don't have any regrets and I won't look in the rear-view mirror."
During his introductory speech, Mara did just that and was uncharacteristically emotional when speaking of Manning.
"We all have so many memories of Eli," Mara said. "I just want to quickly mention two of mine. I certainly remember the days leading up to the 2004 NFL draft when I was constantly in and out of Ernie Accorsi's office. We were on the phone, hoping we could pull off that trade with San Diego and what a trade it turned out to be, probably the best trade in franchise history. Eli became the face of the franchise, Super Bowl MVP and as fine a representative as this team has ever had. Ernie, I want to thank you for having the foresight and patience and guts to pull off that trade and help build those Super Bowl teams.
"I also remember the last game of the 2004 season, Eli's rookie year, when he took us down the field at the end of the game in the closing seconds to beat Dallas. It was the last game my father ever saw, and I can remember walking to the locker room with him afterward and him saying to me, 'I think we found our guy.' And how right he was."
Manning became not just a great player, but the team's foremost participant in community and charitable causes. In 2016, he shared, with fellow 2004 draftee Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona's great wide receiver, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes players for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.
"I was excited to come to New York," Manning said. "When I make a decision, I'm determined to make it work. Abby and I became active members in our community, whether it's parent volunteers for kids' sports teams or supporters of local charities, like Tackle Kids Cancer, March of Dimes and Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
"I don't have a single regret and, ultimately, I think that it worked out for you and for me. We supported our community in the past, today, and since we're going to be sticking around here, we'll continue to support this community in the future."
More than once, Manning expressed his gratitude to be Giant for life. And after more than a decade and a half of deflecting credit to others, he stayed on script and thanked those who made it possible.
"It's rare to have the privilege of playing an entire career with one organization," Manning said. "I'm proud to be one of the few, but even more so, that it was as a Giant. There are a few people that I want to thank.
"Of course, the Mara and the Tisch family," he said. "You can be confident that no one has loved and appreciated wearing the Giants uniform more than I have and that will never change.
"To Ernie Accorsi - 16 years ago, Ernie made the trade that made me a Giant for life. Thank you so much.
"To Coach Tom Coughlin, thanks for teaching me the work ethic, the discipline and the value of team-above-all-else mentality.
"To Coach Kevin Gilbride (the offensive coordinator under Coughlin), thanks for always having my back and trusting me and supporting me through my entire career and, of course, to all my teammates. If I named them all, it would take forever and no one would recognize me if I did.
"What I will say is that the best thing about playing all these years is the number of teammates that I can call real friends, and of all those friends, I'm lucky enough to have a few that have become as close as brothers."
Manning played his final game on Dec. 15 when he made his second straight start in place of Jones, who was recovering from a sprained ankle, against the Miami Dolphins in MetLife Stadium. Manning threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-20 victory. With 1:54 remaining, he stepped into the huddle, only to be removed from the game to receive a long and loud thank you from Giants fans as he took his final walk off the field in a Giants uniform.
"This sport has very few real farewells," Manning said. "But as the clock ran down on our win against the Dolphins this season, I ran to my favorite place in the stadium, the tunnel. I waved to our loyal fans and then Abby, my kids, ran out to meet me. That was my farewell and a moment I'll cherish forever. There won't be any more tunnel moments for me, which I'll truly miss them."
Not as much as the Giants will miss Eli Manning.