Why Eli Manning should retire a Giant

Allow me to be the first to wish you a Happy Birthday, Eli.

It’s so hard for me — for all of us, really — to realize that you turn 39 on Friday.

I’ve watched you grow from a boy into a man. A husband and father of four. We all have.

And I have to confess that I grew a bit sentimental on Monday when you stood in front of your locker answering questions for the last time as a New York Giant before you smiled and shook our hands for the last time and went on your way, probably to shake hands and say goodbye to coaches and staffers who will forever remember you as The Pride of the Giants, in every way.

I held up my iPhone to take a photo of the name plate above your locker I have looked up at for 16 years.

MANNING 10.

In white against a blue background.

NY in script in white on the far left, a smaller Eli in white in the middle in front of MANNING in the middle, 10 on the far right.

A smaller New York Football Giants in white on the top.

It saddens me that next season, it will no longer be there.

Here’s one vote for the Giants leaving it there, as a reminder of what you meant to the locker room, to the franchise, never to be used by anyone.

That’s where you always stood, rain or shine, and for too long lately, there had been considerably more rain than shine. You were always approachable and accommodating, even on days when you were not scheduled to speak.

You never stopped representing the Giants the way the Giants wanted every player to represent them.

You treated every one of us the same, which is an astounding feat. You never played favorites. I remember Mike Garafolo, who was a beat reporter back then before rising to an NFL Network star, asking me if I ever thought you would open up and reveal more of yourself. And I had no idea.

You reserved that side mostly for your teammates and coaches, but that was okay. It’s difficult to hide class. I’ve come across enough phonies in my life to recognize a gentleman mensch.

You deserved the heartfelt sendoff Giants fans gave you. You didn’t ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl championship the way Big Brother Peyton did, but you will always be our champion. New York’s champion. New Jersey’s champion.

The dilemma you are confronting now is whether or not to keep playing the game you love.

You know and I know you will miss the camaraderie, the feeling of sharing a win in the locker room with your teammates. Playing for Coach Coughlin. Playing for Giants fans. Hoisting that Lombardi Trophy on a Canyon of Heroes float while millions of New Yorkers saluted and cheered you.

You played only four games this season, so you feel better physically than you have at the end of your first 15 seasons, with the possible exception of your rookie season, when you were so young. You are certain you can still play. You know you have more to give. You know you can play quarterback for someone.

Eli Manning runs off the field for the last time as a Giant.
Eli Manning runs off the field for the last time as a Giant.N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Alas, it won’t be for the Giants. Danny Manning — oops, Daniel Jones — is the present and the future. You can’t stand the thought of being a backup. It’s not what Mannings do. And try to name a team out there that will be looking for a 39-year-old starting quarterback.

As a kid, I idolized Mickey Mantle. So many of us did. We had no idea about the drinking problem that eventually claimed his life. The reporters covering the Yankees sure did, but there was no TMZ or Page Six back then.

The mighty Mick knew it was time to retire in spring training 1969 because he winced when he swung the bat, the pain in his knees and legs reduced him to a mere mortal. He was a shell of his powerful self, and it was sad to see that he was not forever young.

I’d like to share with you an interview the Mick did with Bob Costas in March of 1994. This was 17 months before he succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver:

“I used to have that reoccurring dream, I was trying to get back into the ballpark. I could hear (Yankees manager) Casey (Stengel) and the team out there playing. All the gates were locked and I had to try and sneak through a hole in the fence to get into the ballpark. And then if I did get in, I’d hit a ball that should’ve been a hit but I couldn’t run and the outfielder would throw me out.”

You might have dreams something like that someday too, Eli…David Tyree wide open downfield and you underthrow him, and the ball bounces off his helmet.

You haven’t needed the neck fusion surgeries that Big Brother Peyton had to endure toward the end of his Hall of Fame career. You are healthy. You don’t feel hours away from 39 years old.

It’s your life and you can do what you want. If you truly want to keep playing, go play. Joe Namath was on his last legs when he left the Jets for one more year in Los Angeles anyway. Joe Montana left San Francisco for Kansas City. John Unitas left Baltimore after 17 years for one last fling in San Diego.

It’s just hard for many of us to picture you in any other jersey. That blue 10 jersey that no one else will wear again. It seemed so right that Derek Jeter retired a Yankee. It would feel so right for you to retire a Giant. Same as Michael Strahan, same as Harry Carson, same as Lawrence Taylor, same as Phil Simms, same as Frank Gifford.

You were an Ironman, somehow, some way. Always there for your teammates and your team. You have enough memories to last you a lifetime. And we can’t thank you enough for those memories.

Count your money and your blessings. You were a Hall of Fame Giant. Go be a Hall of Fame daddy.

Retire as a Giant.

For more on the Giants, listen to the latest episode of the “Blue Rush” podcast:

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