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Eli retirement press conference: For New York Giants, an event unlike any other

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Manning says goodbye in front of teammates, family, friends

Eli Manning Announces Retirement Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Friday was really a day unlike any other in the storied history of the New York Giants franchise. There have been other retirements of high-profile or championship-winning Giants, but not quite like the celebration of Eli Manning that took place in the team’s field house.

Manning hung up his spikes officially on Friday, saying that “I knew it was the right thing to do. I’m not going to regret this.”

It’s not every retiring NFL player who gets a congratulatory letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It’s not every NFL player who gets a wistful note from Tom Brady.

As far as anyone could remember, no Giant had ever retired with such pomp and circumstance.

Knowing the Quest Diagnostics Training Center auditorium wouldn’t hold the media, current and former players and other dignitaries who wanted to be part of the celebration the Giants moved the press conference into the practice bubble.

The list of dignitaries and former/current Giants players in attendance was long and impressive.

Former coaches/executives: Ernie Accorsi, Tom Coughlin, David Cutcliffe, Mike Sullivan, Tom Condon (Manning’s agent), Manning’s parents Archie and Olivia, Manning’s wife, Abby, and his four children.

Former players: Howard Cross, Jeff Feagles, David Diehl, Phil Simms, Mark Herzlich, Harry Carson, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, Hakeem Nicks, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Jacobs, Zak DeOssie, David Tyree, Amani Toomer, Michael Strahan

Current players: Daniel Jones, Ryan Connelly, Oshane Ximines, Sterling Shepard

There were likely many others who wanted to attend, but couldn’t because of circumstances or other commitments.

In a brief chat after the press conference I asked Carson why he had chosen to attend. His answer was simple, and probably summarized why so many of those in attendance had made it a point to be there.

“Respect.”

Carson spoke eloquently about Manning’s impact on the organization and his off-the-field work.

“Those are the things that I look at,” said Carson, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. “As far as I’m concerned he’s already in the Hall of Fame when it comes to being an outstanding individual.”

Typically, Manning wasn’t emotional as he read for about seven minutes from prepared remarks. He did admit, though, that “there is nothing easy about today.”

He said he had done things with the Giants “my way” and acknowledged that his quiet demeanor had not always been understood or appreciated.

Manning also acknowledged that things had not always been perfect.

“I choose to leave this game with only positive memories,” he said. “Why harp on the not so proud moments? Where’s the value in that?”

Manning offered a small glimpse of the person we never saw on the field by saying one of the things he will most is “sharing a cold beer on the back of a bus after a big game.”

Manning made clear that ending his career having worn nothing but a Giant uniform was more important to him than going somewhere else for a year or two prove that he could still play.

“I think it was important to me to go out as a Giant ... I think it was the right thing to call it a career and to end it instead of trying to uproot my family and leave and try somewhere else.This was the right decision, and I know it is and I’m at peace with it. I think that’s what has made this day a little bit easier,” Manning said.

“Wellington Mara always said ‘Once a Giant always a Giant’ For me, it’s only a Giant.”

The Giants will retire Manning’s No. 10 jersey.

“You have always been the ultimate Giant, and we will be honored to induct you into our ring of honor this year,” John Mara said to Manning. “And please know this: No Giant will ever wear number 10 again.”

Mara was really the emotional one on Friday.

Mara said Manning was “everything you could ask a player to be both on and off the field for the last 16 years” and “as fine a representative as this team has ever had.”

He grew increasingly emotional as he wound through his introductory remarks about Manning, especially when he spoke of his late father’s reaction to Manning leading the Giants to a season-ending victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of 2004, Manning’s rookie year.

“It was the last game my father ever saw and I can remember walking to the locker room with him afterwards and him saying ‘I think we found or guy’ and how right he was,” said Mara, with his voice cracking.

Wellington, of course turned out to be right.

As did Ernie Accorsi, the GM who engineered the trade that brought him to New York and Tom Coughlin, the coach who pushed him into the lineup in 2004 when veteran players would have preferred he not do that.

When Manning was done speaking, doing photo ops and answering a handful of media questions, it was obvious many weren’t quite ready to let go.

Rich Seubert said “he was my quarterback,” then, after chatting a bit excused himself and said he was going to head out. Only he didn’t, choosing to hang around with ex-teammates as long as he could.

Daniel Jones, successor to Manning, talked to reporters, chatted with O’Hara and soaked in the atmosphere.

Accorsi and Coughlin visited with group after group of reporters, willingly re-telling the Manning stories they have told for years. Accorsi told me he knew Manning would be great “the first time I ever saw him” at Ole Miss.

David Tyree told the Helmet Catch story and reminisced about Manning for the umpteenth time.

Finally, long after Manning, his wife Abby, his four children and his parents, Olivia and Archie, had said their goodbyes, people began to filter out of the field house.

Friday was a day everyone knew was coming, but that many seemed to want to make last as long as possible.

What they were all doing, of course, was saying ‘Thank you, Eli.’