Why Eli Manning was my favorite player.
Over the coming days, ESNY staffers are going to share our favorite athletes. Why did we cheer for them? What about them made them our favorites?
When I first began following football back in — checks notes — the mid-2000s, Eli was just starting out. He wasn’t the Super Bowl MVP quarterback that he ended up becoming, but moreso the novice signal-caller seemingly addicted to throwing interceptions.
But regardless of the early struggles, the air in East Rutherford was different when the Eli era commenced. And I grew up through all of it.
I was there for Eli’s first home preseason game as a rookie.
I was there for his final game in his 16th year.
I was there for multiple playoff games in which he was under center.
I was there for both the 2008 and 2012 season-openers when all of Giants Stadium (and then MetLife Stadium) celebrated his and the team’s Super Bowl title from the previous February.
This was a team that was bad enough to have the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2004, and then when Eli showed up, the organization reached the postseason in four of his first five seasons, a period of time that included the miraculous Super Bowl 42 victory over New England.
From 2005-19, the only Big Blue quarterback I knew (besides Daniel Jones and…dare I say…Geno Smith) was the ultimate Giant himself: Eli Manning.
The way he conducted himself off the field was immaculate. The way he could drive you nuts for 58 minutes then become a Hall of Fame-esque quarterback in the final two was thrilling.
He was the first quarterback I ever rooted for, and it was incredible to be able to do it for 16 years — an experience not every football fan is able to stumble upon.