Easy-going Eli didn’t try to match older Mannings, he paved his own path

MADE IT LOOK EASY: New Orleans native Eli Manning was a smooth customer during a magnificent NFL career, winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame)

NOTE — This is part of a series of stories profiling the 12-person Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023, who will be inducted to culminate three days of festivities in Natchitoches July 27-29. For tickets and more information, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.

By TED LEWIS, Written for the LSWA

It couldn’t have been easy being the guy they called Easy.

Consider the accomplishments of his father and brothers that Eli Manning was challenged to live up to on the way to his own considerable football stardom:

By the time he was a freshman at Newman, older brothers Cooper and Peyton had been highly recruited stars for the Greenies. And as if to put more pressure on Eli, Peyton wrote in his yearbook, “Watch out, world. This one is going to be the best one.”

By the time Eli got to Ole Miss, Peyton had been an All-America and Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee then the first pick in the 1998 NFL draft. That’s not to mention Eli chose to play at the school where his father, Archie, was a living legend. The school speed limit was his number – 18.

By the time of the 2004 draft where Eli matched his brother by being the No. 1 pick, Peyton was coming off the first of his unmatched five NFL MVP seasons.

Eli even had to follow Peyton’s hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, still considered the best-ever by an athlete.

Plus, Eli would spend the entirety of his 16-year NFL career in the media pressure cooker of the Big Apple.

He cooly handled it all, though — becoming the career passing leader for his high school, college and NFL teams, the last where he was the longest tenured player in the 98-year history of the New York Giants and quarterbacked Big Blue to two unlikely Super Bowl championships with two MVP performances, one more than Peyton’s total.

Not bad for someone whose parents questioned whether he had the competitive inclination to follow the route of his father and older brothers.

“It took me a little while before I was comfortable with the idea that maybe I didn’t have to match my family, or at least didn’t have to do it exactly the same way,” Eli said. “I loved playing football, I loved my teammates and I loved the commitment and preparation it took.

“It was never about keeping up with my family.”

Or, as his mother, Olivia, put it more succinctly, “Eli was always a little different from the others.

“He was quieter and calmer and kind of hard to rattle. Eli just rolled along.”

And now, Eli has rolled into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, joining Archie and Peyton in Natchitoches and making the Mannings the only father-brother combination among the hall’s 479 inductees.

“He more than deserves it,” said Peyton, five years Eli’s senior, who was inducted in 2019.

“More than anything else, Eli developed his own identity at every step along the way.

“He was tough-minded, durable, and always took accountability throughout his career. I’m honored to be in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame with him.”

Added Archie, who was inducted in 1988, “Eli had the right disposition to handle everything that came his way.

“He was always low-key, quiet and humble. Eli just didn’t worry about things.”

Well, not always.

When he was a senior at Newman and the Greenies were playing a Thursday night game, Eli made an urgent pregame call from the locker room to his mother asking her to be sure to tape Seinfeld.

Years later, when Jerry Seinfeld heard the story, he sent Eli an autographed DVD set of the entire series. Such are the benefits of celebrity in New York.

Of course, there is a burden as well.

Although Eli famously never read what was written about him (Olivia would alert him when there was something she knew he would be called on to respond to), he acknowledges that the notorious media pressure in New York is a very real thing.

“Early on, it was difficult for me because everything in New York is overanalyzed,” Eli said. “You have to learn pretty quickly not to listen to it.”

Winning became habitual for Big Blue with No. 10 behind center, including two Super Bowl triumphs after a record-shattering career at Ole Miss, including wins in the Independence Bowl and Cotton Bowl in his last two seasons.

Eli’s love of all things Giants led to what Archie calls him becoming a “Jersey boy,” settling with his family — wife Abby, a fellow Ole Miss alum, and their four children — in Summitt, New Jersey where he remains an ambassador for the Giants and an active participant in charitable and community activities, including being a fan at his kids’ hockey, lacrosse and softball games.

Eli acknowledges it’s been a good ride.

 “I grew up with a wonderful family and friends,” he said. “And now I’m living my second chapter in a terrific place to raise my family and doing things that are important to me while getting time to play a little golf.”

So maybe it wasn’t that much of a burden being Eli Manning.

Like another very famous former resident of New Jersey, Eli did it his way.