EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning ended his 16-year NFL career on his own terms. He was classy, well-prepared and walked away as a New York Giant.
In a roughly seven-minute speech touched with a little humor but almost no emotion, the 39-year-old Manning officially ended his career Friday at a packed news conference surrounded by family, friends and former teammates and coaches from the storied franchise he helped lead to two Super Bowl titles.
"From the very first moment I did it my way," said the low-key Manning, who followed in the steps of father Archie and brother Peyton as NFL quarterbacks. "I could not be someone other than who I am. Undoubtedly, I would have made the fans, the media, even the front office more comfortable being a rah-rah guy.
"But that's not me. Ultimately I choose to believe that my teammates and the fans learned to appreciate that. What they got was pure unadulterated Eli."
One person who was emotional? Giants co-owner John Mara, who said Manning would be inducted into the team's ring of honor at MetLife Stadium next season and that his No. 10 jersey was being retired.
Mara's eyes welled recalling the final game of Manning's rookie season in 2004. The kid from New Orleans by way of Ole Miss rallied the Giants to an NFC East Division win over the Dallas Cowboys to end an eight-game losing streak.
It was the last game the team's late co-owner, Wellington Mara — John's father — watched.
"I can remember walking to the locker room with him afterward and him saying to me, "I think we found our guy." And how right he was," John said.
The holder of almost every Giants passing record, Manning said he had no immediate plans. He admitted he would miss the time with teammates, the game preparation, the fans and the beers in the back of the bus after wins. He plans to spend time with his family and friends reliving the positive memories, ignoring the bad times, enjoying himself and being an assistant coach for his daughter's third-grade basketball team.
A job with the Giants — for more than a decade, he was the face of the organization with his play on the field and his charity work off it — is a possibility, he said.
"For most of my life, people have called me 'Easy,'" Manning said, referring to his nickname. "Believe me, this is nothing easy about today. Wellington Mara always said, 'Once a Giant, Always a Giant.' For me, it's 'Only a Giant."'
The retirement brought well wishes from the NFL community. The Empire State Building in New York City planned to have its tower lights in navy, red and white with a number 10 in the mast on Saturday to honor Manning.
Manning was the No. 1 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2004, but the 6-foot-5, 218-pounder was traded to the Giants on draft day, having made clear he would not play for the West Coast franchise. He moved to the top of the quarterback depth chart after nine games with the Giants and started the next 222 games overall in a streak that ended in December 2017.
Manning led the Giants to Super Bowl titles to cap the 2007 and 2011 seasons, beating the New England Patriots both times and being named MVP of both games.
His first and the team's third Lombardi Trophy was won against an opponent with a 16-0 record. Manning rallied the Giants to a 17-14 victory, with the winning touchdown drive highlighted by his 32-yard pass to David Tyree — who pinned the ball to his helmet as he made the catch — and his connection with Plaxico Burress for the score.
His second title game featured another late winning drive, this one covering 88 yards and ignited by a 38-yard-pass to Mario Manningham in front of the Patriots' bench.
It was classic Manning, not being bothered by the pressure of the moment.
"How good was he today?" Tom Coughlin, who was the head coach of Manning's two Super Bowl teams, said regarding his speech Friday. "He was composed for the most part and refused to get too sentimental about things we all talk about."
Coughlin will always remember the Manning he saw on a daily basis.
"You just knew the quality of the man," Coughlin said. "There he is sitting right in front of you every day, the start of every day was always a meeting. You knew you were going to get his best and it was going to be a focused best."
Manning wasn't a saint. He was a prankster in the locker room, changing the languages on teammates' cellphones or putting colored dyes in their socks. He once smeared petroleum jelly on center Shaun O'Hara's car after a disagreement.
It was all part of the game, although the last eight years were tough, with the Giants making the playoffs only once.
His final season ended with him being replaced by rookie Daniel Jones as the starting quarterback after two games. Manning did have a final hurrah, starting and winning a game over the Miami Dolphins after Jones was hurt in December.
"That was my farewell and a moment I will cherish forever," Manning said.
So will Jones, who is the future quarterback after being taken sixth overall in last year's draft. He learned from Manning all season, both when times were good and when times were bad.
"More than anything you learned how he did it," Jones said. "You watched how he interacted with people, how he works himself. There is no better way to learn than to see it in action and done every day at a consistently highest level in terms of leadership and being a good teammate."
Manning's popularity was evident by seeing those who came to his final show.
Besides his family — including parents Archie and Olivia — and Coughlin, college coach David Cutliffe and former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi were there, along with former Giants players Burress, Tyree, Harry Carson, Zak DeOssie, David Diehl, Evan Engram, Jeff Feagles, Mark Herzlich, Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Rich Seubert, Sterling Shepard, Phil Simms and Amani Toomer, longtime trainer Ronnie Barnes and several assistant coaches.
"I knew 100% I'm not going to regret this," Manning said. "When I make a decision, I commit to it and make it the right decision. This is it, and this is the right one. It's an honor to have played here 16 years and to have only played here."