Since his retirement, Eli Manning has noticed numbers.
Whether is No. 60 for Shaun O’Hara. No. 51 for Zak DeOssie. Chris Snee’s No. 76. No. 27 for Brandon Jacobs.
Manning notices them and he takes pictures.
But this Sunday, as the New York Giants prepare to induct Manning into the Ring of Honor during halftime, it will be him who’s picture is taken. The No. 10 that Manning wore for 16 seasons in New York will become one of just 12 retired jerseys in Giants history.
Already enshrined in New York lore, the No. 10 has become synonymous with defining moments like the years 2007 and 2012, the “helmet catch,” and MVP. It has also come to represent something intangible, like accountability and leadership.
But before it meant any of those things, the No. 10 was just a number.
When Manning got to Ole Miss, he was asked if he wanted to wear his father’s number (No. 18) which had since been retired. Manning passed. He had never had a single-digit number before and had also never worn the No. 10.
“I said, I’ll go 10, I kind of like it,” Manning said to the Giants media on Thursday.
When Manning was drafted by the Giants in the 2004 NFL Draft, Jeff Feagles wore No. 10.
“I remember just on the way from where I was drafted, Madison Square Garden to kind of going to Giants Stadium to be welcomed, someone had Feagles on the line and we worked out a deal real quick for a trip to Florida,” Manning said. “If it was going to be easy and simple and not a big story then I said I’d do it, but if it was going to be something outrageous, I probably would’ve moved on and found another number. I said if I could keep it, I’d like to keep it and the rest is history.”
Manning took a number that held no prior meaning for him or the fans in New York, and he made it significant. Fans will always wear jerseys with the No. 10 emblazoned on the back but no New York Giant will wear it on the field again.
“It’s going to be special,” Manning said. “It’s going to be a very emotional day and kind of one last farewell to all those fans wearing No. 10 and all them that supported me during my time with the Giants and continued to support me. I just appreciate their loyalty and their support through all these years.”
For Manning, the jersey retirement is not only a goodbye of sorts but a celebration of the players and coaches who made him into the player he became.
“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.
Tom Coughlin, who coached the Giants for 12 years and the majority of Manning’s career, was a major factor in Manning’s career.
“I can’t say enough great things about Coach Coughlin and owe so much of my success to him and just the way he pushed me,” Manning said. “He taught me just the importance of preparation and hard work and team above self. Just all the lessons that I learned, and I feel that’s one of the great honors and privileges that I had was being able to play under him for 12 seasons. We still communicate. I still look at him as a mentor and keep him in my life.”
Going forward, Manning said that he hopes when fans see the No. 10, they remember the consistency and durability that went into wearing it Sunday after Sunday for so many seasons. Manning started 234 games in his career, posting an even 117-117 record, and rarely missed playing time.
“I think just the availability,” Manning said. “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 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.’
Over the years, Manning’s desire was never questioned. He understood the importance of showing up through the good seasons, but the bad ones too. In him, fans not only had a leader but a friend.
Not even in his 16th season did Manning stop showing up. He made it his goal every year to not only earn the respect of the fans, but the players. Manning entered the NFL at 23 years old but his process did not change as he grew into himself both on and off the playing field.
“In college, you’re all the same age,” Manning said. “You’re all kind of 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.”
Since his retirement, Manning has spent more time with family and he said that he has particularly enjoyed having the chance to coach his children’s little league teams and meet their friends. He feels confident in his decision to leave football, but he has made sure to stay involved by hosting Monday Night Football with his brother, Peyton, on ESPN2 this season. His love of the game still exists, but the losses do not hit as hard and the actual quarterback hits are not missed.
This Sunday, Manning will get one final moment. During halftime of the Giants’ game against the Falcons - the team Manning made his first career start against - his number will be formally inducted into Giants history. The ceremony is important and well-deserved.
But for Giants fans, Manning’s legacy was already untouched. Manning will always be the player who won on the road. Who defeated the unbeaten. Who managed to find David Tyree. His number will be inducted in the Ring of Honor but his memory exists in all of ours.
‘There’s only so much you can control playing football,” Manning continued. “You cannot control the outcome of every single game. There’s too many things that are out of your control, but you can control your desire and your heart and your willingness to do whatever it takes to be there for your team, for your organization and for your teammates.”