Giants great Eli Manning finds freedom off the football field

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
FILE PHOTO: Sep 26, 2021; E. Rutherford, N.J., USA; New York Giants former quarterback Eli Manning is honored at halftime of the game between Atlanta Falcons and the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Two-time Super Bowl champion and retired Giants quarterback Eli Manning is an expert at silencing critics from gridiron to the stands of his third-grade daughter’s basketball game.

The mild-mannered, four-time Pro Bowler defined an era of Giants football, cutting a contrast to the NFL’s big personalities before retiring in January 2020 with a long list of franchise records.

Today, the quarterback turned girls’ basketball coach is letting his hair down, enjoying the relative anonymity afforded by a face mask and stands empty of critical parents.

“You don’t have the parents yelling at you because their kid’s not playing enough,” Manning, 41, told Reuters. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t do emails. I don’t accept any criticism. Like, we’re going out there. We’re playing.'”

It is the kind of flair that even his avid fans might not have seen in his playing days, during which he pulled off one of the greatest upsets in professional sport to beat Tom Brady’s undefeated New England Patriots at the Super Bowl in 2008.

“I didn’t want my fans to think I did anything else besides football,” said Manning. “I just wanted them to think that’s all I did … And to some degree, it was a little true.”

Two years after retirement, he has all but shed that mindset, singing along to Olivia Rodrigo’s Gen Z anthem “good 4 u” in a raucous post-season ad campaign for Frito-Lay and PepsiCo with other larger-than-life NFL figures, including Terry Bradshaw, and enjoying the popularity of the “ManningCast” show he launched last year on ESPN2 with his brother Peyton.

“I definitely had a different side of me that my team mates knew,” he said. “They kind of saw me get to relax or I could let my hair down a little bit. And so, yeah, I think now it’s kind of all that – I don’t have to hide something… you’re just kind of a little bit more relaxed and willing to kind of put yourself out there a little bit more.”

Manning predicts more success for MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers this post-season, with the quarterback’s Green Bay Packers getting a week’s rest courtesy of a first-round bye.

“I just don’t know who’s going to go into Green Bay and beat them at home,” said Manning, who sees the Tennessee Titans taking the AFC.

“I feel like even though they (Packers) are the number one seed, they’re still an underdog. No one’s really giving them a chance and I think they like that,” said Manning.

“They’re not blowing guys out, but they find ways to win. And I think just having that quality is a great thing to have in the playoffs.”