A Tribute to Eli Manning: ‘No Giant Will Ever Wear No. 10 Again’

A Tribute to Eli Manning: ‘No Giant Will Ever Wear No. 10 Again’

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — John Mara, the co-owner of the Giants, choked back tears and his voice cracked as he recalled the last game attended by Wellington Mara, his father and the longtime patriarch of the Giants.

It was the finale of the 2004 season, less than year before the elder Mara died. A rookie quarterback named Eli Manning had just fashioned the first of his 37 career game-winning drives to carry the Giants past the Dallas Cowboys. John Mara said that on their way to the locker room that day, his father told him, “I think we found our guy.”

That guy was Manning, whom the Giants traded for on draft day in 2004 and honored Friday in a grand news conference, where Mara and an array of former and current Giants paid their respects to arguably the most accomplished quarterback in team history.

Mara praised Manning’s dignity off the field and declared that the Giants would pay tribute to him again next season, adding Manning to the team’s ring of honor for all he had accomplished in his 16 N.F.L. seasons.

“And please know this,” Mara said, “no Giant will ever wear No. 10 again.”

Dozens of people gathered at the team’s practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., to commemorate Manning’s career as he formally announced his retirement — and the reason for it.

“It was important for me to go out as a Giant,” Manning explained while flanked by the two Super Bowl trophies that he had helped win. “When you get drafted and come to an organization, that’s always the goal, to stay with one organization your entire career.”

Manning, 39, started just four games this season, yielding the job to Daniel Jones, the rookie selected sixth over all in last spring’s draft. Just after the season ended, Manning demurred when asked if he would retire, but conceded that he knew he would not play as a Giant again.

He ended his career with a 117-117 record as a starter and franchise records for most regular-season wins as a Giants quarterback, most games played by a Giant (236), most consecutive games started (210) and most passing yards in a season (4,933 in 2011). In the playoffs he went 8-4, including the two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots following the 2007 and 2011 seasons, each of which is remembered for an extraordinary pass Manning threw late in the game.

All of that success came with some struggles, including in his rookie season — when he threw nine interceptions in only seven starts. Tom Coughlin, Manning’s first head coach, recalled on Friday how the quarterback spent most of his first few games on his back after being blitzed repeatedly. Coughlin also remembered how Manning responded after one of the tougher Sundays of his bumpy rookie season.

“He came into my office on Monday,” Coughlin recalled, “and said, ‘Coach, I didn’t do very well yesterday. But I really know I can do this.’ It showed the true humility of the man.”

In addition to Coughlin, who coached Manning’s two championship teams, the crowd at the farewell ceremony included Ernie Accorsi, the former general manager who fashioned the draft-day trade that brought Manning to the Giants, and many of Manning’s former teammates, such as Michael Strahan and Plaxico Burress. Older Giants legends, like the quarterback Phil Simms and the linebacker Harry Carson, also attended. So did Jones, Manning’s heir, in a room full of lapels bearing blue pins with the No. 10 on them.

The gathering also included Eli’s father, Archie Manning — a former N.F.L. quarterback whose experiences on weak teams in New Orleans helped fuel his son’s desire to play for the Giants and not the floundering San Diego Chargers, who owned his draft rights. The elder Manning said Eli’s legacy should be defined not by the trophies, but by his durability.

“More than anything, Eli showed up every Sunday,” Archie Manning said. “Through good times and bad, he was always there ready to play.”

Peyton Manning, Eli’s older brother and the Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, did not attend the news conference. But Eli Manning said he had relied heavily on his brother’s advice before finalizing his decision to retire. He also consulted coaches and former teammates.

“The guys that played here for the Giants and happened to leave and play other places,” Manning said, “they all said the same thing: ‘It’s not the same as other places. It’s different.’”

Manning opened his remarks with an impassioned speech in which he thanked owners, coaches, teammates, fans and even cafeteria workers and members of the training staff. He said he did not consider the news conference to be his farewell. That, he said, had happened on Dec. 15, after the last game he played, a win over the Miami Dolphins, when he stood near the tunnel at one corner of MetLife Stadium and waved to the fans.

Then Manning concluded his speech with a remark of the kind that teams etch in stadium tunnels and on the walls of training facilities.

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

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