The New York Giants will be making good on John Mara’s promise that no Giant will ever again wear number 10.
This Sunday, as the Giants face the Atlanta Falcons, Eli Manning will be inducted into the Giants’ ring of honor and retire his jersey. Eli’s No. 10 jersey will be joining Phil Simms’ 11 and Y.A. Tittle’s 14 in the rafters.
To commemorate Eli’s day, I wanted to put together a list of 10 of the 10 best moments from Eli’s career. This is far from an exhaustive list — he has 16 years and 236 starts to choose from — but these were some of the ones that stood out as the most quintessentially “Eli” to me.
10 - The shootout in New Orleans
They can’t all be completely positive moments, but I couldn’t not include one of the greatest shootouts in NFL history.
The Saints bested the Giants 52-49 on a 50-yard field goal as time expired, but that loss can’t be put on Eli. The Giants’ QB finished the game going 30 of 41 for 350 yards and threw a career-high 6 touchdowns. And in typical “Eli” fashion, the Giants’ went nuts in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 unanswered points to pull ahead of the Saints.
Unfortunately, the Giants’ defense just couldn’t slow down Drew Brees (39 of 50, 505 yards, 7 touchdowns) despite picking him off twice and scoring a defensive touchdown.
It’s a tough pill to swallow when your quarterback — your offense as a whole — has a career day and it just isn’t enough.
The highlights from the game were something else, though. We got a little bit of everything from Eli that game, from long bombs to precision passing, to schoolyard football.
9 - Football on your phone
Manning Night Football on ESPN2 is sweeping the country as Peyton and Eli break down the night’s game in real time and their own unique way.
But this isn’t the first time Peyton and Eli teamed up to bring us greatness. The two shot several commercials for DirecTV, which were pretty much instant hits. And while I could easily have gone for Football Cops, that just doesn’t have the sticking power of this masterpiece.
8 - ;-p
Football on your phone was all well and good, but that was just a commercial. Eli hosting Saturday Night Live just has to rank above it.
We’ve long heard tales of just how vicious a prankster Eli could be in the locker room, but fans rarely got to see Eli’s personality in public. He has the perfect temperament for a Franchise QB in New York; quiet and reserved on the surface, always willing to horde the blame when things go wrong, but just as willing to spread the praise around when things go well.
But after his second Super Bowl win, Eli got to host SNL and he did a pretty darn good job of it. The courtroom sketch was a classic, and the “Little Brothers” sketch was great too.
It was just so good to see the normally stoic Eli (metaphorically) let down his hair and have some fun.
7 - Giants sweep the Cowboys (2011 edition)
This wasn’t the only time the Giants’ swept the Cowboys during Eli’s career, but it was the most consequential.
The first game was one of those miraculous come-backs that Eli was so good at engineering. Dallas was up 34-22 as Eli got the ball with 5:41 left in the game, only for Eli to orchestrate a drive taking all of 2 minutes, 21 seconds. It culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard to bring the giants to within 5 points of Dallas
The defense got Eli the ball back again with 2:22 left on the clock, and this time the Giants’ offense kicked it into high gear. They got good field position, and it took Eli just 1 minute, 26 seconds to put the offense in position for a 1-yard touchdown run from Brandon Jacobs. A 2-point conversion from D.J. Ware and a blocked field goal attempt by Jason Pierre-Paul sealed the game, 37-34.
The second game to end the season wasn’t that close, and for once the Giants didn’t wait for the final seconds to secure the win.
That game, Eli and the offense clicked right away, jumping out to a 20-0 lead at half time. The game was never really close, and Eli finished the season with 4,933 yards (746 of which came against Dallas).
Looking back, I’d be tempted to say that sweeping the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys was a bit sweeter, but it’s tough to argue with paving the way for a second Lombardi trophy, or knocking a division rival out of the playoffs.
6 - Eli outrunning Jason Taylor
Of Peyton and Eli, it’s easy to say that Eli has always been the better athlete. But when you expand the sample size to the NFL at large, Easy E’s athleticism was more of a meme than a weapon for the Giants’ offense. Eli always just looked awkward when he had to do anything besides flow in the pocket, and it was a joke that you needed a calendar to time his 40-yard dash.
But if there’s one thing nobody will ever be able to take away from him, it’s that he outran Hall of Fame DE/OLB Jason Taylor for a touchdown. And this wasn’t a paltry 1-yard QB sneak from just outside the end zone. This was a whole 10-yard touchdown run on the turf in a packed Wembley Stadium in London.
Giants fans might always grimace at the thought of Eli breaking the pocket. He never really tucked the ball well or even learned how to slide, mostly just kinda tumbling to the ground. But for that one brief, shining moment, Eli outran a world-class defensive player who probably couldn’t believe his own eyes.
5 - Playing through a separated shoulder
Eli has always been a bit (occasionally a lot) goofy. That’s just an objective fact, and I think even the most ardent Giants fan — or his wife — would agree. But the other thing Eli has always been is tough. No wait, let me rephrase that: Eli Manning has always been TOUGH.
Now, “toughness” is one of those descriptors that gets bandied about a bit too much, but it’s truly applicable to Eli. Not only did he have the mental toughness to last a tumultuous 16 years in the NFL, but he has one of the longest streaks of starts in league history at 222 (which wasn’t ended by injury).
And it wasn’t that Eli protected himself from injury — him getting rocked as he stood in the pocket trying to make a play wasn’t an uncommon sight. Or that Eli simply didn’t get hurt.
Eli got injured throughout his career, but he always managed to play through it — more mental toughness on his part.
Eli’s mythic Iron Man streak really got started back in the 2007. In his 42nd start, Eli told the late Jared Lorenzen that his shoulder was killing him and that he (Lorenzen) should start warming up. While Eli exited that game and didn’t practice that week, he was ready to go in time to make his 43rd start. Normal humans don’t just shrug off a separated shoulder and then play a professional football game a week later — and go on to win the Super Bowl that year.
This was only one example; Eli’s played through plantar fasciitis, head wounds, and too many hits to count. Maybe it’s that patented “Eli” shrug he always gave after taking a hit.
4 - Two NFC Championships
I was tempted to break these up into two different moments, but I just couldn’t. As great as the Giants’ two Super Bowl wins were, the NFC Championship games against the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were easily better games.
In 2008, Eli went to the frozen tundra of Green Bay and out-dueled Brett Favre on his own turf (while Tom Coughlin’s face froze off). That was the game in which Eli “arrived” for me. He wasn’t perfect, but he rose above miserable conditions to play better than anyone thought he would.
In 2012 he went to San Francisco when it was a sloppy, muddy mess and gave one of the best defenses everything they could handle in the first half. In the second half he weathered an absolute beat-down from the 49ers defense, but just kept getting back up — despite playing with the flu.
Eli was running for his life again, and Justin Tuck and several other veterans kept approaching David Carr, his backup, on the sideline. “You’ve got to be ready, man,” they were saying. “I don’t know if Eli can take any more hits.”
It was the 2011 NFC Championship Game, and the Giants’ offensive line was buckling from all the pressure from Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and the rest of the 49ers defense. Not only that, Eli was playing with the flu. He hadn’t fully practiced all week. When the open portion of practice ended and the media left, Eli would rush to the bathroom to vomit. Sometimes he’d stay there for the rest of practice. Carr guessed that, through all of this, Eli must’ve lost 10 pounds.
Now the 49ers were throwing sickly Eli around like a rag doll.
But he never blamed his linemen. He never singled anyone out. He never really said a word. He just picked himself up and went back to the huddle. “When you’re having a tough day and your quarterback is getting hit, you turn around and Eli has the same face on,” says Snee. “He’s doesn’t look frazzled. He doesn’t look skittish. He doesn’t look anything. He’s got the same goofy-looking face. It’s comforting to see that.”
The 49ers sacked Eli six times, and he still led the Giants to a 20-17 overtime win.
3 - Once a Giant, always a Giant... Only a Giant
It’s rare that a player gets to spend the entirety of a 16-year career with one franchise.
For all the ups and down’s of his career, Eli’s retirement conference was probably the single most emotional point. Not only were the Giants losing the face of their franchise, but that speech summed up all of the various moments throughout his career. All the highs and lows, all the triumph and tragedy, the great plays and the hair-pulling mistakes were wrapped up in that speech. I think every single Giants fan thought of their own personal highlight reel of moments from Eli’s career, and I know I still get choked up reading his words from that day.
“It’s been an honor to be a part of this family and I hope that I’ve represented the organization in the way that you wanted me to from my first day to my last.
For most of my life, people have called me Easy. Believe me, this is nothing easy about today.
Wellington Mara always said, “Once a Giant, Always a Giant.” For me, it’s ‘Only a Giant.’
Thank you so much.”
2 - 4th Quarter Eli
Okay, this could apply to a lot of different moments throughout Eli’s career. He was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history, and throughout Eli’s career Giants’ fans got used to a feeling of calm settling in if the game was within reach as the fourth quarter started.
It wasn’t so much that Eli got better in the fourth quarter, but that he had the ability to just ignore the pressure which would get to other players.
And in no season was that more true than 2011, when the Giants just couldn’t bring themselves to just go out and win a game. No, they had to fall behind and Eli had to engineer a thrilling (read: anxiety-inducing) comeback.
Part of the Giants’ brilliance at the end of games was due to a dramatic shift in offensive philosophy. For the overwhelming majority of the Giants’ offensive plays in 2011, they ran a traditional, methodical offense. That year they huddled on 97 percent of their offensive plays (1,516 in total). But during the last two minutes of the half, they would switch and hand Eli the keys to the offense in a no-huddle offense. The Giants ran a no-huddle offense on just 51 plays that year, but those plays were arguably the difference
But then there’s that calm, the ice water that always seemed to run through Eli’s veins in the biggest moments. That calm let Eli scan the field with 3:46 left in his second Super Bowl, down by 2 against an objectively better team. And with some flowing in the pocket he launched a perfect pass to a double-covered Mario Manningham to kickstart the 25th game-winning fourth quarter drive of Eli’s career.
It wasn’t the greatest play in Super Bowl history, but it was probably the single best throw of Eli’s career.
1 - The greatest play in Super Bowl history
You had to know this was coming. No list of Eli Manning moments or accomplishments is complete without the Giants’ final drive from Super Bowl 42.
I was a sophomore at SUNY Albany in 2007, and by the time the Super Bowl came around, the campus was divided between Giants and Patriots fans.
(As an aside, you’d think that with the Giants holding their training camp at UAlbany in those days, it’d be staunchly Big Blue. However, Albany isn’t far from the Massachusetts border and bandwagonning always popular)
There were competing cheers and jeers as plays were made and the game unfolded, but nothing will compare to the Giants’ last drive. The competing shouts of “NO!” and “YES!” as it looked like Eli would be sacked, with the cheers taking over as Eli heaved the pass to David Tyree. A fantastic pass on a great route to Steve Smith to keep the drive alive on third down... And then the sound of the entire freshman quad (which was probably a quarter-mile away) erupting in cheers when Plaxico Burress caught the touchdown pass to put the Giants up 17-14.
Eli’s career was inarguably a roller coaster ride, but this is a peak that’s tough to top.