Eli Manning’s retirement is like no other: ‘Only a Giant’

Of course the parting line was perfect, because Eli Manning prepared for this his whole football life.

On the day when he bid a farewell far more fond than bittersweet, the face of the Giants — make that the former face of the Giants — stared straight ahead, fought off the emotions churning inside him and delivered, as he delivered so many times for his team and his teammates.

“For most of my life, people have called me ‘Easy,’ ’’ Manning said Friday. “Believe me, there is nothing easy about today.

“Wellington Mara always said, ‘Once a Giant, always a Giant.’ For me, it’s, ‘Only a Giant.’ ’’

It will forever be only a Giant for Manning, who will not play for another team, will not don another uniform and will never look back at his time with the Giants and think about what might have been. This was the way he wanted and believed he needed to go out.

“I think it was the right thing to call it a career and to end it instead of trying to uproot my family and leave and try somewhere else,’’ he said. “This was the right decision, and I know it is and I’m at peace with it. I think that’s what has made this day a little bit easier.’’

There has never been a day quite like this in the 95-year history of the franchise. The goodbye to Manning was set up in the team’s field house — fittingly, a football environment — a lectern beside a table with the two Lombardi Trophies he produced for the Giants prominently displayed, all shiny and sparkling. Former teammates filled the cavernous building, Tom Coughin and Ernie Accorsi sat in the first row, as did Manning’s parents, Olivia and Archie. Joe Judge, the newly hired head coach, was there, as was Daniel Jones, the 22-year old quarterback assigned to succeed Manning.

There had never before been a Giants retirement event quite like this.

“No, I don’t think so,’’ co-owner John Mara said. “But has there ever been a player like this for our franchise?’’

This had been planned for more than a week. There was a video tribute — Eli was noticeably moved while watching, his lower lip quivering a bit — and then only Mara and Manning spoke.

“We did it the way he wanted it done,’’ Mara said. “I shouldn’t say that, he wanted it as low-key as possible. At least we didn’t have fireworks or anything like that going off.”

Before Mara introduced Manning, he announced the Giants’ longest-tenured player will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor this season and that his No. 10 will be retired, never to be worn again.

Manning thanked the Mara and Tisch families, Coughlin, Accorsi, former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, his many teammates, his family. His wife, Abby, and their four children, Ava, Lucy, Caroline and red-haired Charlie, beamed. Manning held it together, growing emotional when mentioning Jones and the bond they quickly developed, and deftly navigated through thoughts and revelations that all came back to a common theme: His appreciation for starting and ending as a Giant.

He spoke of his final appearance in a game, starting and beating the Dolphins, and running to “my favorite place in the stadium’’ to meet his wife and kids in the tunnel.

“That was my farewell and a moment I’ll cherish forever,’’ Manning said. “There won’t be any more tunnel moments for me, and I’ll truly miss them.’’

He said “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. Undoubtedly, I would have made the fans, the media, even the front office more comfortable if I was a more ‘rah-rah guy,’ but that’s not me.

“Ultimately, I truly believed my teammates and the fans learned to appreciate that. They knew what they got was pure, unadulterated Eli. I don’t have any regrets and I won’t look in the rear-view mirror.’’

This was an adieu remarkably free of any regrets.

“Would we have liked to have won more games or championships? Of course we would have,’’ he said. “I choose to leave this game with only positive memories. Why harp on the not-so-proud moments? Where is the value in that? If there are going to be endless echoes, choose the good ones. For now, I’ll focus on the touchdowns, the wins, celebrations with teammates, family and friends and sharing a cold beer in the back of a bus after a big game.’’

Manning said he will stay and live in New Jersey and that “I’m walking away feeling like a New Yorker — well, at least a Northeasterner.’’ He heard far more cheers than boos over the years and offered this: “To the Giants fans, you are definitely unique, but I love you for that.’’

Manning made it clear that in his mind, no one was ever prouder to wear a Giants uniform than he was.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of this family,’’ he said, “and I hope that I’ve represented the organization in the way that you wanted me to from my first day to my last.’’

For more on Eli’s retirement, listen to the latest episode of the “Blue Rush” podcast:

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