Skip to main content

Eli Manning stories: Firsthand memories of a two-time SB champ

Quarterback Eli Manning will announce his retirement in a press conference Friday after 16 years in the NFL, all with the New York Giants. The four-time Pro Bowler helped the Giants win two Super Bowls (both over the New England Patriots) and is well-known for his iconic moments in each of those games: the "Helmet Catch" in Super Bowl XLII and a sideline dime to Mario Manningham late in Super Bowl XLVI. A two-time Super Bowl MVP and the NFL's 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Manning finishes his career at seventh in NFL history with 57,023 pass yards and third in most consecutive starts by quarterback (210).

Three analysts who saw Manning's work firsthand -- former center and teammate Shaun O'Hara, former quarterback and teammate David Carr, and former cornerback and opponent DeAngelo Hall -- look back on Manning's storied career in New York.

ELI'S TEAMMATE: Shaun O'Hara, former NFL center

How old is this baby-faced kid? Does he even shave?

That was my first impression of Eli Manning. I had just signed with the New York Giants as a free agent during the 2004 offseason after four years with the Cleveland Browns. The Giants were undergoing a major reshuffling at quarterback that offseason, as veteran Kerry Collins was released, veteran Kurt Warner later signed to be the immediate starter and Eli was drafted as the future of the franchise. There was a lot of drama surrounding Eli's selection at No. 1 overall to the San Diego Chargers (a team he had expressed he didn't want to play for) and then the all-in trade by GM Ernie Accorsi.

People had questions. Players, too. Who is this kid? Is he a diva? (Imagine that: Eli the diva!) It was an interesting start off and on the field. Urban legend would claim his first pass in his first minicamp was one of the worst passes some had ever seen. I have heard versions that it hit a trash can 10 yards out of bounds and the pass was end-over-end like a kickoff. There lies the greatness of Eli. Like he would do so many times later in his career, he simply shrugged it off and carried on.

Knowing Eli would take the reins at some point, I remember thinking, I'm going to have to hold his hand and babysit this kid his rookie year. Boy, was I wrong. It only took a few film sessions with him to realize, This kid gets it. He can read defenses and he understands protections. This is going to fun and we are going to win some games. Looking back, I learned more from him than he probably learned from me.

Eli was Kurt's backup that first season, but I remember being immediately impressed by his understanding of the offense and ability to decipher defenses. The same went for his work ethic and the time he spent on his craft. It didn't take Eli long to become the starter, taking over for Warner in Week 11 of his rookie season -- a role he then held for the next 14 seasons. Once Eli became the Giants' starting quarterback, the film sessions grew longer. There were times when we'd order dinner to the stadium so we could plow through the game film. I may have even fallen asleep during a few of them, which is huge mistake around Eli. Let's just say he has an affinity for Sharpies.

I can't stress enough the number of overtime hours Eli put in preparing for game day every week of his entire career. He would even go in on Tuesdays (an off day) to get in a workout and get a head start on the week's game plan. The thing is, Eli enjoyed putting in the work, and one of the most remarkable things about him was that I never heard him complain about practice, film, meetings, etc. Not once.

Eli was the ideal quarterback for large-market franchise like the New York Giants. He was level-headed and never fazed by anything on the field or off it. He never dwelled on a poor throw or game and always bounced back. He was great at calling an audible when a play seemed doomed from the start, even if it came at his own expense. He was perpetually available for his team and held himself accountable in every aspect of the game. To make 210 consecutive starts in this league is insane when you think about the demanding schedule and physicality of the game. Eli played in every game for 12 straight seasons, before the benching fiasco by then-head coach Ben McAdoo in 2017 -- another example of Eli putting the team first, not concerned whatsoever about ending his starting streak. Since we are on this topic, let's talk vintage Eli. Quite possibly the most impressive streak Eli holds: The man was never late. For anything. I take that back. He was late once in his rookie year, but it wasn't his fault. Coach Kevin Gilbride (QBs coach at the time) lost track of time during a QB meeting and they were all late to a team walk-through. Oh, we had fun with KG that day! (If anyone's keeping score, yes, coach Tom Coughlin did fine them ALL for being late!)

As Eli's center for seven seasons in New York, I naturally spent a lot of time with him. We never passed up an opportunity to share stories over a cold beer or joke around. Eli seemed to gravitate toward his offensive line. We had a fun group and he was always right in the middle of all the shenanigans. He loved it. And we did, too. He loved to dish it out, and always took it in stride when it came back on him. Not sure how other QBs would have responded to walking into their hotel room on a road trip and finding one of their O-linemen buck naked, sprawled across the bed. Yup, Rich Seubert was THAT GUY!

The guys in our locker room constantly challenged each other. Competition was omnipresent. A game of HORSE during camp? He's calling his shots. Late night game of FIFA during camp? He's covering your face during the shootout to make you miss. That's the real Eli. He also had a way of getting the most out of everyone, without calling you out. That was never his style. He was more of a, "Hey, do you want to catch a touchdown? I'm trying to throw you one! Run the right route." Or, "Make that block and we score." And, "Beers are on me." He always came through on that part. Bus, train or plane, you could count on it. He made the long days fun. Even now, at 39 years old, Eli's still that little kid who loves competition (SEE: flip cup night).

There are so many stories I could share, but this tribute wouldn't feel complete without talking about the "Helmet Catch" in Super Bowl XLII. To this day, it's still hard to believe Eli broke a tackle. That alone makes it the most remarkable play in Super Bowl history! Jokes aside, that play is a perfect depiction of Eli. Even when all hell broke loose around him, he never panicked. He was never shook. He just found a way to win. He was phenomenal in that game -- and it changed the entire trajectory of his career.

ELI'S BACKUP: David Carr, former NFL quarterback

Before I signed as a free agent with the New York Giants ahead of the 2008 NFL season, my impression of Eli Manning was the same as most fans and media members. That he wasn't very athletic, or vocal, or talented, and that he got by because he was Peyton's brother and Archie's son. But when I got there, I found Eli to be the exact opposite. He was an incredible leader, but not the rah-rah type Hollywood loves. He took control and did things that coaches and coordinators did throughout the offseason and week. Then he'd turn around and spend time teaching and discussing roles with specific players, and it wasn't uncommon to see Eli run the tight end meetings or receiver meetings or running back meetings. It was something I had never seen before -- in fact, I didn't know that was even an option -- but Eli, the smartest player I ever shared the field with, took the time to get everyone on the same page.

And because Eli spent countless hours preparing and meeting with teammates, it didn't surprise me when he connected with Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI -- one of two iconic Eli moments. We had run that play at least 100 times since this team had formed in the spring and Eli had never thrown it to Mario. But those two constantly discussed the scenario in which Mario would get the ball, and one thing Eli drove home was that Mario needed to run full speed in order for the play to work. So against the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday, Eli got the exact coverage needed to execute the play to Mario, who was running full speed down the left sideline. Eli looked to the right -- where he had thrown the ball for the majority of the season on this play -- and threw left to Mario, hitting him perfectly. That play happened in slow motion -- I can still see it -- and ultimately helped the Giants win a Lombardi Trophy.

Eli was impressive in everything he did, from his study habits and on-field play to the type of teammate he was and his unique ability to handle the New York media. He had 20 cameras in his face every day at his locker and never rode the title wave of emotions most players do. He kept his head down and continued to work -- a huge testament to his career and a major reason why he was able to reach the pinnacle twice.

ELI'S OPPONENT: DeAngelo Hall, former NFL cornerback

My NFL career, ironically, started and finished with Eli Manning. As a defensive back out of Virginia Tech, I was excited to attend the 2004 NFL Draft in New York City. Joining me that week on appearances to promote the event were Robert Gallery, Kellen Winslow II, Roy Williams, Ben Roethlisberger and, of course, Eli. I knew the Manning name and even remember thinking when I first met him, Dang, that's Peyton's brother! He was conversational and I recall seeing the competitiveness between him and Roethlisberger about who would be the first QB taken off the board. (Philip Rivers didn't attend the draft, so he wasn't in that equation.) With all six of us, there was a joke all week long about which player would be the last guy drafted, and every time, I voluntarily raised my hand because it didn't matter to me. I was cool going to any team at any time that first night. BUT, I will say that I wasn't last. Ben was.

Anyway, if you remember, Eli was taken first overall by the San Diego Chargers. But to my surprise -- and I wasn't alone there -- he didn't put the Chargers team hat on after Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the pick. I couldn't believe it! I couldn't grasp what transpired over the next 30 minutes or so, when the New York Giants made a trade for Eli. I just sat there thinking, Man, I don't care who calls my name. I'm gonna be happy no matter who picks me. I was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Falcons, a team that I didn't meet with or visit during the draft process. It didn't matter. I was in the NFL.

A few months later, I faced Eli in a preseason game and made the dopest interception of my career. Well, almost. I blitzed from the corner and snatched it out of the air with one hand, but a false start on the tackle ruled the play dead before it even began. Eli and I often joked about that play when I first got to Washington in 2008. As a Redskin for 10 seasons, I played Eli twice a year. My final NFL game as a member of the Redskins -- though I was injured and didn't play -- came against the Giants in Week 17 of 2017.

Eli was a true professional and that's what everyone loved about him, whether you were his teammate or opponent. He was heavily scrutinized by the New York media, but always stood up at the podium, didn't shy away from the tough questions and stayed as even-keeled as possible. (To be honest, Baker Mayfield could use a little Eli.) One of the most impressive things about Eli's career is his consecutive starts run. He worked hard for that streak and played through the rain, sleet or snow, the good seasons, the bad seasons, injuries, everything. I hated when Ben McAdoo made the thoughtless decision to bench Eli in 2017 and end his streak. That was so disrespectful, and if there's one thing Eli deserves for what he did during his career on and off the field, it's respect.

Follow Brooke Cersosimo on Twitter @BCersosimo.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content