Eli Manning said he spent his 16 years being himself, showing everyone "pure, unadulterated Eli." And for the most part, that was true. He never changed who he was just because others demanded it, or because some thought he didn't fit the mold of what a Giants quarterback should be.
The result, though, was that he was also careful to make sure that the public version of "pure, unadulterated Eli" was the version he wanted everyone to see. That wasn't the same version that others saw in private. And he rarely let outsiders see what friends, family and teammates saw behind the scenes.
Still, there were moments. ... So SNY reached out to several members of the media who covered him over the years to see if they had any good, behind-the-scenes stories about the Giants icon. They were all asked to describe their "Eli moment," something that epitomized the "pure, unadulterated Eli" they came to know over the years.
Here's how they responded:
Judy Battista, NFL Network
My Eli moment is more of an Eli and Peyton moment and there were a few of them over the years. The first I remember was in the Indianapolis Colts locker room a few days after Tiki Barber criticized Eli's leadership style - calling it "comical" - during a television appearance in 2007. Eli, uncharacteristically fired back with a few biting remarks.
"I guess I'm just happy for Tiki that he's making a smooth transition into the TV world," Manning said. "You know, I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say [about a team] besides the Giants, and what his comments will be on that."
I happened to be in Indianapolis that week for a story and was leaving the locker room when Peyton called me over. He wanted to know how Eli's remarks were playing in New York and I told him the truth: that I thought it was being received well, not only by the Giants themselves, but by their fans, who often yearned for a more boisterous leader than Eli would ever be. Peyton stood there nodding, then unleashed a few choice words about Barber.
The next came the day after the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game after the 2011 season. Peyton had missed that entire season with a neck injury, and I knew he had used that down time to watch Eli's games closely. He had told me once that he had had to stop watching Eli play early on Sundays if the Colts played the late game, because he got too wound up in his hotelroom, once finding himself standing on his hotel bed screaming at a referee about a call that had gone against the Giants.
Eli had a great year in 2011, he threw nine fewer interceptions (16) than he had the previous season, while also throwing for 900 more yards. When I asked Peyton what he had seen that Eli might have been doing differently to elevate his game, Peyton immediately bristled. To suggest that Eli had improved in his eighth season sounded, to Peyton, like a suggestion that Eli was less than stellar in the previous seasons, and he was not standing for that. Every interception has its own story, he insisted. The Colts had played the NFC East the year before so Peyton had seen plenty of Eli's play and he thought he had played well in 2010.
Those two moments (and there were others, including the apparent misery Peyton felt whenever his teams played the Giants) reminded me of a simple thing: Eli, as accomplished as he was on his own, would always be Peyton's little brother and Peyton would always be protective of him. It was touching and sweet and, I was also reminded watching Eli handle the toughest moments under the brightest spotlight for 16 years including his final season, almost entirely unnecessary.
Patti Traina, Inside Football
I am the host and producer of the LockedOn Giants daily podcast. During the bye week in the 2018 season, I was doing a celebrity Giants week of guests and one of the guests was Steve Hytner, who played Kenny Bania, a minor character on the Seinfeld television series.
After I taped the segment with Hytner, he asked me if I knew Eli and I told him that I did through my normal media access. I also mentioned that I knew Eli was a huge Seinfeld fan. So Hytner asked me if he could tape a short message of support for Eli, who at the time was coming under heavy criticism.
I had the message on my recorder for about two weeks as I had forgotten about it. I finally remembered when I want to clean out old recordings. So I think it was on a Thursday-Eli wasn't scheduled to speak, but he was at his locker and I went up to him and told him about the recording.
At first he didn't know who Steve Hytner was, but when I told him who he played, Eli's face lit up. I played the message for him and the look on his face was just classic. He broke out into a smile and said to me, "That's gold!" "That's gold!" was a catchphrase of Kenny Bania.
Bruce Beck, NBC
It was 10 years ago -- a Wednesday -- and in the Giants locker room that meant Eli Manning availability day.
After a plethora of reporters completed their 15-minute interview scrum with Eli by his locker, the Giants franchise quarterback finished getting dressed and started to exit the locker room.
Suddenly, two young reporters from WFUV, Fordham's terrific student run college radio station, went over to Eli's locker and said, "Mr. Manning, we apologize for being late, but can we still ask you a few questions? And "Unadulterated Eli" says "Sure guys. Where would any of us be without college radio?!"
Say what? I am saying to myself he doesn't know anything about college radio and has likely never worked on the airwaves at the University of Mississippi, but somehow Eli knew enough to deliver the line and was gracious enough to grant the kids an interview they will never forget.
What a player. What a guy. What a legacy.
James Kratch, former Giants beat writer, NJ.com
I only covered Eli for three seasons and -- like most reporters I'd imagine - I can't say I got to know him well. Eli was always professionally distant, and I think that's why he was so often the target of scorn from fans and media. Criticizing Eli in print or on radio/TV was like punching a pillow. The risk of consequence was almost non-existent. He likely would never be aware of it and even if he was, he was too classy to stop being a pro with you.
Two quick relatively personal stories: I got him at his locker right before Mike Francesa's first retirement from WFAN to do a quick gag story about his weekly Monday spot, and he seem completely unaware, and a bit confused, when informed the beat writers listened to and tweeted about a 15-minute segment that rehashed storylines that were already a day old and contained nothing but boring, predictable questions and answers. I would have thought he was playing dumb had I not known better. This is a guy who was called "The $84 Million Dope" and had a dunce cap drawn on his head by The Post and was unfazed, after all.
But on a more Eli note: Every spring he did an event for one of his main charity partners, Guiding Eyes for The Blind, where he would attempt a blindfolded putt at the Mount Kisco Country Club. He'd show up on time with no handlers, no fuss -- I'm pretty sure he drove himself - and he'd graciously attempt the putt, take photos, talk to reporters and then head on out. He was just a good guy trying to help a good cause.
Mike Garafolo, NFL Network
For me, it was training camp 2007, when Eli responded to Tiki Barber calling his attempts at leadership comical. I figured he'd brush the comments off and do his patented aw-shucks routine. But he fired back in the most pointed way anyone could have imagined. It was sarcastic but critical. A matter-of-fact tone while making it clear he was standing up for himself and his team. We saw in that moment he had a pulse, and it was a strong one. His teammates told us they expected him to respond because that's the Eli they knew. But I have no doubt he showed even them there was more fire to him than they believed.
Six months later, with the Lombardi trophy in his hands, no one had any more doubt.
Tom Canavan, The Associated Press
Eli had a schedule. He would talk to the media on the Monday after a loss. Wednesday's during game week and again after games. You could always grab a couple of sentences on Fridays. When you needed him for a feature or something special, he always found the time for you away from everybody.
What seems a long time ago, he and Peyton were going to play against each other. The office wanted a story and he found the time. He usually didn't say much about family, but he recalled one of his favorite moments as a kid was when he beat Peyton in a game of basketball. Made his day. It was just a nice little touch that made my story a little easier to tell. He probably knew it, too.
Mike Eisen, Giants.com
My son Harrison started hanging out in the equipment room in Eli's third or fourth year. Harrison is special ed, somewhere on the aspergers/autism spectrum. He was a little socially awkward, but Eli immediately bonded with him and made him feel comfortable. Through the years, Harrison spent more and more time around the Giants. He was a part-timer/intern for many years before he was hired as a full-time employee in March 2017. During all those years, Eli and Harrison had some kind of interaction every single day - in the locker room, on the field or somewhere else in the facility. Many times, it was Eli telling Harrison an off-color joke or saying that can't be repeated here. Harrison always laughed. He used to help Eli during early warmups on game day. Even when Eli was benched this past season, he remained exactly the same with Harrison - needling him, joking with him, just being a good friend. Harrison calls Eli his big brother and mentor. He will miss Eli more than anyone.
Also, since I joined the Giants in 2000, I've written program stories. Players like being on the cover of the game program, but actually getting them to sit down for a lengthy interview can be a challenge. I conducted almost all of those interviews in the cafeteria. Most of the time it required several reminders, which are often forgotten or ignored. I can't tell you how many times I had to stand by a player's locker while he dressed and then escort him down to the lunch room. That was never the case with Eli, about whom I wrote 15 program stories. Each year he would give me some little newsworthy nugget he hadn't mentioned in a news conference. We usually sat and talked on a Friday - the one day he could leave the facility a little early, but he was always willing to stay and talk. About 4-5 years ago, we agreed to meet at 3 o'clock. I walked into the cafeteria at 2:55. Eli was already sitting in the room waiting for me. I guarantee you, that never happened with any other player.
Ralph Vacchiano, SNY.tv
I covered Eli Manning for his entire 16-year career, spent countless hours interviewing him, his friends and his family, and even wrote a book about him (Eli Manning: The Making of a Quarterback) in the months after Super Bowl XLII. After he retired, I wrote about my first "Eli moment" for SNY.tv, and how it led me to the wrong the first impression.
The truth is, there weren't many other moments over the years. It wasn't for lack of trying. It was more about Eli's desire to keep things professional and ... well, boring, in the public setting. When his career finally ended, I was left with the feeling that even though I covered him longer than any other athlete I've covered in my career, I didn't really know him.
Or maybe I did.
In hindsight, maybe my "Eli moment" came a little more than a month after Super Bowl XLII. I was writing my book and requested an interview with the newly minted Super Bowl MVP. He sat down with me for 20 minutes - the one and only book-specific interview I got with him. He was cooperative and polite and efficient as always.
I focused on how he was enjoying his moment, being a Super Bowl hero and champion so soon after so many doubted he had much of an NFL future at all. But the truth was, his moment was already over. He had already met with then-quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer to discuss his goals for 2008. He said he only met six of his eight goals for 2007. Now, he said, he had an even longer list.
"I had to cut it off after a while," he told me. "I said 'I can't keep writing anymore.'"
He described his Super Bowl run to me as one month of good football, nothing more. He was looking to do better. His teammates were still on the party scene, basking in the afterglow of their unlikely championship. Manning was already back at work, lamenting what he didn't do that season, focusing on improving even though he was sitting atop the football world.
"Some people might look at it and say 'He's won a championship,'" Eli said. "But I guess it really doesn't matter what other people think. I still think I need to become a better quarterback."
A few days later, I called Palmer and told him that story.
"Yeah," he said. "That sounds like Eli to me."