They never stop having his back.
On the field, for sure, and off the field, well, Plaxico Burress can attest to that.
On the day Eli Manning said goodbye to his playing days, retiring from the Giants and the NFL, former Super Bowl teammates traveled from across the country to be there for him, assembling in the team’s field house on Friday as the quarterback bid adieu. Two of Manning’s favorite and most prolific targets, Burress and Hakeem Nicks, were drawn to a farewell unlike any other in franchise history, both feeling the need to be there for their former quarterback and forever friend.
Burress, who lives in New Jersey, caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Manning in the final minute of the stunning Super Bowl XLII upset of the 18-0 Patriots. Burress said he thinks about that moment in time every day. He also thinks about something else when his thoughts drift to Manning: How he missed on a chance to get back on his prank-loving teammate.
One day, Burress came out of the weight room to find players in the locker room cracking up. He had no idea why. He took a shower and toweled himself off in front of his locker. More cracking up around him.
“So I’m like, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’ ’’ Burress said.
He was not expecting to hear the reason for all the laughter at his expense.
“So I come to find out, Eli got out of the shower and he took it upon himself to sit naked on my towel that was on my stool,’’ Burress said. “And here I am now, wiping my face with it.’’
Manning needed to be paid back for this.
Not long after the towel incident, Burress got some grapes and stuffed them into Manning’s shoes.
“I said, you know what, today he’s gonna make jelly with those grapes in his shoes,’’ Burress said.
It never happened. Manning got to his locker, picked up his shoes, turned them over and out fell all the grapes.
“He was like, ‘See? See, you can’t get me,’ ’’ Burress said. “I think it was [offensive lineman] Richie Seubert, he told on me. He didn’t want to have his quarterback walking around with jelly on his toes.’’
Burress is No. 4 on Manning’s reception list, having caught 244 of his passes. Nicks is No. 2 (behind only Odell Beckham Jr.) with 313. Manning took care of his former teammates, alerting them via a series of group texts he still maintains about his plan to retire before official word got out around 5 p.m. last Wednesday. Nicks made the trip from North Carolina to be with Manning.
“For one, he’s a great friend of mine,’’ Nicks said. “We still communicate to this day. When I wasn’t playing anymore I was still coming to train with him. He was a great leader on our team. He led us to a championship. Without Eli I wouldn’t even be wearing this hardware on my finger. I feel I owe it to him just to let him know, I was a solider for him. Without him I wouldn’t have most of my stats, really all my stats. Hat’s off to Eli, man, it’s a celebration of great things he’s done over his career.’’
Nicks caught a Hail Mary from Manning to lead the Giants into halftime of a playoff victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field during the postseason run following the 2011 season. No one hauled in more of Manning’s passes in the postseason than Nicks’ 28.
Nicks, as a rookie in 2009, learned the hard way that the baby-faced Eli could be ruthless.
“He got a hold of my phone and changed it to Chinese,’’ Nicks said. “It took me like forever, I think I had to wait until the next off-day to go to a Verizon store to change it back. Nobody would change it back for me. That was my welcome to the Giants, I guess. He got me plenty of other times after that but that was the first time.
“Man, he gets you how he gets you. He got a couple pranks he does the same to everybody. The only people that used to get him were the linemen.’’
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