Eli Manning was always an exciting, unpretentious quarterback who gave fans a lot of thrills, so it is sad to see him leave. However, Manning also is retiring with nothing left to prove, as his career had way more highs than lows. Here are the five greatest moments.
1. Best quarterback in the nation (2003)
Manning earned the starting duties as a sophomore at Ole Miss in 2001 and had his best season in '03. The Rebels recorded their first 10-win season since 1971 and beat Oklahoma State 31-28 in the Cotton Bowl, as Manning received All-American honors and won the Maxwell Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. While he finished third in the Heisman voting behind Oklahoma signal-caller Jason White and Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Manning was considered the best QB prospect by sportswriters and analysts heading into the NFL draft.
2. Super Bowl champs (2007)
Manning became the New York Giants' starter in 2005 and led them to two straight playoff appearances. In 2007, New York jumped out to 6-2 start, but struggled and went 4-4 for the remainder of the season. Their 10-6 record was still enough to earn a wild-card berth and the Giants made the most of it, winning road games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers to earn a shot at the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. New York shocked the football world by holding the Patriots to 14 points and Manning saved his best for the fourth quarter, completing nine of 14 passes — including the David Tyree helmet catch — for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-14 win. His performance earned him Super Bowl MVP honors.
3. Super Bowl champs redux (2011)
Even more improbable was New York's second Super Bowl win over New England. The Giants were 6-6 after Week 13, but won three of their next four games, including two against the Dallas Cowboys. Manning posted a career-high 4,933 passing yards and set a single-season record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes with 15. Their 9-7 record secured the NFC East by one game and the Giants saved their best football for the playoffs. First, they beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 at home. Then they went to Lambeau Field and beat a 15-1 Green Bay Packers team 37-20. The Giants next traveled to San Francisco and beat a 13-3 49ers team to earn a rematch with the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Once again, New York's defense held New England to less than 20 points and Manning was clutch, completing 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards. He also threw an amazing sideline pass to Mario Manningham in the winning drive of a 21-17 victory. For his efforts, Manning was named Super Bowl MVP for a second time.
4. Giants' all-time passing leader (2013)
On Oct. 27, 2013, Manning threw his second completion of the game in 15-7 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and passed Phil Simms mark of 33,462 yards to become New York’s all-time leader in career yards. He finished his career with 57,023 yards and pretty much owns every Giants’ career passing record.
5. Walter Payton Man of the Year (2016)
In addition to his on-field success, Manning helped launch the "Tackle Kids Cancer" initiative with the Children's Cancer Institute at Hackensack Meridan Health to help raise money for pediatric cancer research. He and his wife Abby also created the Eli and Abby Manning Children’s Clinics in Mississippi. The NFL recognized his philanthropic work by awarding him and Larry Fitzgerald with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2016.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.