Eli Manning
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

There have been several and historic highs and lows through the 16-year illustrious career of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Jason Leach

On Friday morning, the illustrious career of Eli Manning officially came to an end after he announced his retirement from the NFL after 16 tremendous seasons. No other player in the 95 years the New York Giants franchise has been around had played more seasons with the team.

Several current and former teammates were in attendance to show support and to honor their quarterback.

Manning’s retirement is an end of an era in more ways than one, as he was the last remaining Giant acquired by the late Wellington Mara.

His career was unlike any other quarterback before him. He achieved the highest of the peaks, but also experienced several lows, especially over the back nine of his career.

The Giants acquired Manning in a 2004 draft-day trade with San Diego Chargers, who took the QB with the first-overall pick. Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi would select Philip Rivers with the fourth pick, only to send him, along with a third-round 2004 pick, a 2005 first-round draft pick, and 2005 fifth-round draft pick, to the Chargers for the rights to the youngest Manning.

After the details of the trade were announced, many fans booed, feeling the Giants relinquished too much for Manning. Fast forward 16 years later—after two New York Super Bowls and none for the Bolts—and it’s safe to say the Giants won that trade.

Manning would go on to become the most prolific quarterback in Giants history. He would break every significant passing record in franchise history. His 57,023 yards and 366 touchdowns both rank seventh in NFL history.

In addition, one of the qualities that made Manning invaluable to the franchise was his ability to always be available for game day. Manning played 234 games, including 210 consecutive starts and never missed a game due to injury.

But more important than his statistical rankings and ironman quality, Manning gained a reputation as a clutch baller when it mattered most, especially in the postseason. This is why the kids called him “Playoff Eli.”

His playoff record finished at 8-4, and with the exception of the 2011 wild card victory over the Atlanta Falcons, all of his wins were either on the road or at a neutral site in the Super Bowl. In his two runs to the Super Bowl, Manning bested some of the best quarterbacks of his era such as Brett Favre, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and, of course, twice knocking off, arguably, the greatest quarterback of all-time, Tom Brady.

His two road conference championship victories in adverse conditions showcased Manning’s toughness and focus. In the 2007 NFC Championship Game against the Packers at Lambeau Field, he battled the bitter cold and outdueled Favre, a 23-20 win in overtime. Four years later against the 49ers, he withstood a torrential downpour and a 49ers defense that sacked him six times, and led the Giants 20-17 overtime win.

But the two games that define Manning are his performances in his two Super Bowl victories.

In Super Bowl 42, he prevented the undefeated New England Patriots from becoming the greatest team in NFL history by completing 19 of 34 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while earning Super Bowl MVP honors. His two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. In the final touchdown drive, he made two of the most memorial plays in Giants and NFL history. The first was the helmet catch by David Tyree for 32 yards, and then his 13-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress sealed the Giants remarkable 17-14 victory in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.

Due to this, the term 18-1 will never go out of style for the Giants and their fans.

Fast forward four years later and Manning would again earn Super Bowl MVP honors in Super Bowl 46, completing 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. He once again broke the hearts of the Patriots and their fans as he engineered a game-winning touchdown drive in the final moments to give the Giants a 21-17 victory. The play that will be talked about forever on the final drive was his perfect 38-yard completion to Mario Manningham down the left sideline in tight coverage.

In winning his second Super Bowl MVP, Manning joined Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady as the only players that have won multiple Super Bowl MVPs.

Those were the highs of Manning’s career, but there were also downtimes that are rarely seen for a quarterback that has built a Hall of Fame resume.

There were the three times he lead the league in interceptions, and the fact that his regular-season record finishes at 117-117, screams “average.”

While Manning was a better quarterback in the postseason as opposed to the regular season, it’s mind-boggling that he led the Giants to only six playoff appearances, and the only playoff wins they had were in their two runs to the Super Bowl. In addition, the Giants missed the playoffs in seven of his final eight seasons, which shouldn’t happen to any great quarterback. The quarterback is the most important and influential position in football, and you’d figure a few times they should be able to carry a subpar team to the playoffs.

Manning’s detractors will also point out that he only made four Pro Bowl appearances and never made an All-Pro team, when most Hall of Fame quarterbacks have several All-Pros under their belt. Some will say if he was never considered one of the best quarterbacks for a season, so why should he be considered as a Hall of Famer?

The end of Manning’s career was also unusual as he was benched after two games for rookie Daniel Jones. If not for Jones spraining his ankle, his career would have ended with him healthy but riding the bench in the final 14 games of his career.

All of these factors are why Manning’s Hall of Fame candidacy is highly debated and will be debated under more scrutiny in his first year of eligibility in five years.

It may not be on the first ballot, but Manning will one day take his rightful place in Canton. Some will still debate whether he belongs there, but one thing is for certain: Eli Manning’s career was unlike any other.

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