After 16 Years, Eli Manning Leaves the Giants With the Gift That Will Keep on Giving
The game and practice equipment was removed from the locker stall, the items folded and tucked neatly into a duffel bag.
The last item to be removed from the "office" Eli Manning occupied for 16 years--the last 10 in the team's current facility after serving the first six in the old Giants Stadium-- was the nameplate above the locker.
The physical space that quarterback Manning occupied in the Giants locker room will likely get a new tenant this spring--perhaps even a quarterback who might fill the role that Manning unhappily yet selflessly filled in his final season.
With the likely exception of his name showing up on the ring of Giants legends' names encircling the Giants locker room, Manning will no longer have a presence in the Giants locker room.
But make no mistake about it. Manning's dedication to the frnachise and hi impeccable record of being a good teammate are lessons that the team's administration hopes will linger on indefinitely.
For Manning, it was never about him--unless the team lost, that is. If that happened, he always came prepared after having looked in the mirror and would speak at length about what he didn't do well enough and how he had to be better, even if, in reality, the loss wasn't his fault.
And if his team won? Suddenly that mirror he looked into after every game became so foggy to where he couldn't see what he had done so well.
No, instead, he spoke about his receivers who made the receptions, or the offensive line, who blocked like a human brick wall, or the defense, who protected their house with the intensity of a guard at Fort Knox.
Manning was never about himself, his brand like so many players these days seem to be embracing more and more, even before some of them manage to accomplish a fraction of what Manning did in his career.
He just wanted to be one of the guys, and to that end, he engaged in the pranks, taking them just as much as he dished them out. And despite his superstar status, which he so expertly balanced with being a devoted husband and father, he just wanted to be one of the guys.
"The best thing about playing all these years," he said as he appeared to slightly tilt his gaze toward where several of his former teammates stood, "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."
"Would we have liked to have won more games or championships? Of course we would have. There were tough times that I learned and grew from, but I always knew the level of effort and sacrifice my teammates and coaches made. We did all we could do every week."
While every relationship has its ups and downs, Manning always chose to harvest the good and not hold grudges if a teammate screwed up or didn't work as hard as he should have.
It was an underrated approach toward building harmony and yet another example of what it meant to be a model teammate.
"If there are going to be endless echoes, choose the good ones," he said. "For now, I'll focus on the touchdowns, the wins, celebrations with teammates, family, and friends, and sharing a cold beer in the back of a bus after a big game."
He showed that love and admiration by rewarding his offensive linemen every Christmas with pricy gifts or by sitting with a young receiver, running back, or quarterback to help them be the best they could be.
Why did he do it? No doubt, a small part of him realized that if he helped to make those around him better, that he too would benefit, and hence the team would win games.
But on a much deeper, more personal level, Manning perfected being the ultimate teammate because of his deep appreciation for the uniform he wore so proudly.
"I think my message to all the Giants players is that you're coming to a wonderful organization that truly cares about your well-being," he said.
"If you--they are committed to doing whatever it takes to put a winning team out there on the field and to bring championships here, great things will get accomplished."