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It was only fitting that co-owner John Mara said these words the day Eli Manning officially announced his retirement after playing on the Giants and in the NFL for 16 seasons. Manning was arguably the best quarterback to wear the blue and white, collecting two Super Bowls (MVP in both those games) along the way to potentially becoming a Hall of Famer.
His best quality at the position wasn’t his ability to play under the highest of pressure, but rather his durability over all those seasons. He was always available even if he had to play through the pain, and never wanted to let his team down.
After being drafted in 2004 and traded to New York, the Giants knew quickly that Manning was someone who could be their franchise guy for years to come.
“I also remember the last game of the 2004 season, Eli’s rookie year, when he took us down the field at the end of the game in the closing seconds to beat Dallas,” Mara said. “It was the last game that my father [Wellington Mara] ever saw and I can remember walking to the locker room with him afterwards and him saying to me, ‘I think we found our guy.’ And how right he was.”
And similar to how that game ended, Manning recalled a specific moment following his final home start – a win over the Miami Dolphins last year – that he’ll always remember as his farewell to the game.
“This game has very few real farewells,” he said. “As the clock wound down on our win against the Dolphins this season, I ran into my favorite place in the stadium: the tunnel. I waved to our loyal fans and Abby and our kids ran out to meet me. That was my farewell.”
As Manning hung his cleats up, he finished his career at 117-117 as a starter. He averaged 3,563 yards per season (241.6 yards per game) with 366 total touchdowns. He made four Pro Bowls as well as being named the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
“It’s impossible to explain the satisfaction, actually the joy, I’ve experienced being a Giant. From the very first moment, I did it my way. I couldn’t be someone other than who I am,” he said.
So, standing at the podium with current and former teammates watching, an emotional Manning said these words that perfectly summed up his time:
“Wellington Mara always said, ‘Once a Giant, always a Giant.’ For me, it’s only a Giant.”