The postgame became another ceremony in Monday’s drama as scores of opponents sought Manning for a hug or a pat on the shoulder pads. Many leaned over to whisper in his ear, a poignant sign of affection in the valedictory of a fierce pro football game.
Manning nodded repeatedly. Leaving the field, he rubbed a hand through his hair in the hallway outside the Giants’ locker room and paused to look around with an expression that seemed to say: What just happened?
About 30 minutes later, Manning was greeted by his wife outside the locker room, an unusual sight, especially in Philadelphia since Abby Manning vowed years ago to avoid the Eagles’ renowned bellicose fans. She changed her mind on Monday.
“She thought, you know, she had to break her rule and come for this one,” Manning said.
Asked what prompted the turnaround, Eli answered: “Well, I hadn’t played in three months. And you don’t know if I’m going to play again. So I think it’s pretty obvious why it was important.”
With the Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, the team’s starter since September, still hobbled by an ankle sprain, there is a good chance Manning will get another start at home inside MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. The Giants also host the Eagles in their final game of the season on Dec. 29. One of those two games will probably be Manning’s farewell to Giants fans and his goodbye to football because retirement is Manning’s most likely course of action when this season ends.
Manning, a free agent after this season, was asked after the game when he would decide whether to retire or try to play for another team since the Giants almost certainly will not re-sign him. He paused, perhaps because he already knows his intentions. Manning appeared a little pained by the question, and his face rarely hides his emotions. But Manning is nothing if not circumspect when it comes to his words.
“Probably next year,” he replied.
Manning will be 39 years old on Jan. 3. In the weeks he sat behind Jones, he kept to himself but confided to others in his inner circle that the life of a backup is not his idea of a gentle way to ease into football retirement. He finds it unrewarding and tedious.