Eli Manning had a unique style of leadership. He led by example on and off the field, and this made him a terrific role model for a generation of Giants fans.
There are plenty of reasons to admire Eli Manning. Something that is especially commendable about Eli has been his ability to stay true to himself. No one would have blamed him if he caved under the pressure of New York.
“Whatever ‘It’ Is, Eli Is Without It.”
Those were actual headlines from Eli’s 2007 season. Of course, he went on to win the most remarkable Super Bowl in NFL history later that season, but Eli never changed. His demeanor and style of leadership stayed mostly the same throughout his entire 19-year career.
Even after his second Super Bowl MVP, Eli was often criticized for his leadership style. Eli was not the kind of vocal leader that would yell at teammates or try to inspire others with with a fiery speech.
He explained his quiet leadership style during his retirement press conference.
“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.”
Eli Manning led with his actions. He became the Ironman of the NFL for never missing a start due to injury. People never heard Eli complain about his numerous injuries and ailments during his historic 210 consecutive games played streak.
Many people forget that Eli separated his shoulder during the 2007 season, and still did not miss a single start. Even after throwing four interceptions in a brutal loss to the Vikings late in that season, you never heard any excuses from Manning. He always let his actions do the talking for him.
Like when Manning played most of the 2009 season with a painful bout of plantar fasciitis, he quietly put up impressive numbers. During his historically great 2011 season, teammates were literally in awe of Eli as he endured hit after hit from an incredible San Francisco front seven (to lead the team to another Super Bowl.) Eli’s quiet toughness made him a leader that teammates wanted to play hard for.
NY Giants players didn’t just love Eli for his unmatched toughness. He also had a playful side and was known as the “Godfather of Pranks” to people in the locker room. Never in the history of the NFL has a player been better at practical jokes than Eli.
Lawrence Tynes, the Giants kicker from 2007 to 2012, learned this the hard way. Since kickers often had less meetings to go to and left practice early, Eli enlisted some teammates to park around Tynes’ car to box him in after a practice in 2011. Countless teammates fell victim to an Eli Manning prank, and he was always somehow able to be unsuspecting about it.
When the Giants unsuspectedly drafted Daniel Jones with the #6 pick in last seasons draft, Eli took everything in stride, like he always did. As a prideful Super Bowl champion, Eli could have easily made things uncomfortable for Jones, but Eli was a tremendous mentor and teammate.
This was especially apparent when a video surfaced of Eli and Daniel Jones out on the town in Hoboken. Daniel Jones had just thrown five touchdown passes, and Eli was genuinely happy for the success of his successor.
Daniel Jones will benefit greatly from being around Eli Manning. Eli Manning never threw a teammate or coach under the bus, snapped back at the media, or chewed out an offensive lineman/receiver on the field. He laid out the blueprint for how to be a successful quarterback in New York.
Not only did Eli set a great example for Daniel Jones, but he also set an example for an entire generation of Giants fans that grew up watching him play. I include myself in that statement. I was just a high school junior in 2004 when the Giants traded for Eli.
I’ll never forget bragging to my friends at school that we had just acquired Peyton Manning‘s little brother. I made the trip to Giants training camp in Albany that summer to watch Eli practice. I remember how Kurt Warner got more practice reps with the starters, but Eli had a special zip on his throws when he got in with the second team.
Eli spent time after practices signing autographs for thousands of fans in attendance. I was standing by the fence, mostly surrounded by kids, and Eli came over and signed my football. I was (probably?) too old to be clamoring for autographs, but this was our new franchise quarterback and I was excited.
“THANK YOU, ELI!” I yelled over the crowd of people. Eli right looked at me. Instead of smirking at my over-excited 16-year-old self, he just said, “no problem, man,” and kept it moving. Eli became my new favorite player.
This made it a sad day for me when Eli officially announced his retirement. It was fitting that his retirement speech was short and to the point. Eli always let his actions speak louder than his words.
As a school teacher and a new father, I try to lead by example as Eli did. At the beginning of this school year, I posted the following quote on my wall to remind myself of this.
“The best way of training the young is to train yourself at the same time; not to admonish them, but to be seen never doing that of which you would admonish them.” –Plato
Next to the quote, I should put up a poster of Eli Manning. Eli has always led with his actions, showed incredible toughness, and stayed true to himself.
This is why I’m glad that he’s always (only) a New York Giant.