Eli Manning might have come from football royalty and might have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft.
But if anyone was expecting the crown prince to walk in with his nose up in the air and bearing a sense of superiority as he balanced his crown, what they got instead was a young man who never really wanted to wear the crown, and who, instead, considered himself just another one of the guys looking to be part of a winning culture.
Manning, whom the Giants famously traded a small king's ransom to acquire from the San Diego Chargers in a blockbuster trade, went on to fulfill the expectations of then-general manager Ernie Accorsi and head coach Tom Coughlin.
Manning delivered two Super Bowl championships on his way to overtaking nearly every franchise passing record. And while Manning is proud of what he was able to accomplish with his teammates, he's incredibly proud of one thing he could do in his career that very few guys manage to pull off.
"I think just the availability. 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," Manning said during a video call with reporters Thursday.
"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."
What they also saw was a player who was selfless in every sense of the word and who made it a point to earn their respect year in and year out, starting when he first walked in the doors of the Giants team headquarters formerly housed in the old Giants Stadium.
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"Obviously, you come into the NFL and you’re 22 or 23 years old, and I think my mindset when I first got there was all of a sudden you come into that locker room and you see Amani Toomer and Michael Strahan and Luke Petitgout and Tiki Barber and these guys who have had success and these guys who are big personalities and these guys who have families and kids," he said.
"You’re like, ‘Holy cow, I’m not in college anymore.’ In college, you’re all the same age. You’re all going through the same issues, and now you’re with some grown men. My take was, 'Hey, I’m going to keep my head down. I’m going to work hard. I’m going to be in early. I’m going to stay late. I’m going to try to ask good questions when I need to and just try to earn the respect of my teammates by just being dependable, showing up, and trying to do all the right things and earn it through just being tough and taking hits and getting up and being there every week.
"I think that was kind of the mentality all 16 years. I wanted to earn the respect of my teammates. Even year 15 when you have rookies coming in, I wanted them to see how I was working and how I was preparing and how important it was to me. I wanted them to see this a guy who’s 15 or 16 years into it and he’s still grinding and still asking questions and he’s engaged in every meeting."
This Sunday, Manning's No. 10 will be the 12th number in franchise history to be retired. He'll also be inducted into the team's Ruing of Honor during halftime of the Giants' home game against the Atlanta Falcons, a team that Manning not only made his first NFL start against but the only team he managed to beat at home in the postseason.
“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," Manning said.
"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.”
On Sunday, it will be.
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