Keidel: Eli Manning, Derek Jeter Tied To 'Enchanted Time' In New York Sports

Giants QB To Announce Retirement Friday

Jason Keidel
January 23, 2020 - 1:13 pm

After years of universal admiration and months of rampant speculation, Eli Manning finally hung up his helmet. 

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No. 10 retires as No.1 all-time for the Giants in games played; pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Manning leaves the G-Men as the club's most accomplished quarterback, and surely most adored player. We can debate his bona fides as a Hall of Famer, but no one doubts his place in Giants history or his giant place in your heart.

There's a sweet symmetry to hear this announcement in the same week another big-ticket, Big Apple athlete, Derek Jeter, is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They played different sports, but Manning and Jeter are tied to an enchanted time in the same town. While Manning isn't leaving the NFL with the same statistical heft with which Jeter left MLB, they share a special era in New York City. Jeter was an iconic cog in the greatest Yankees machine since the 1950s, while Manning is the only Big Blue QB with two Super Bowl MVP awards, sharing a decade on the same geographical stage. 

Former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter answers questions during the Hall of Fame induction press conference Jan 22, 2020; New York, New York
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

With pro team sports such a transient affair, it is refreshing to see two legends keep it to one team in one town around the same time. Players in pro sports are increasingly viewed as me-first mercenaries who work for cash and vanity much more than camaraderie and victory. Once their salaries busted through the seven-digit membranes, pro athletes became less relatable and perhaps more hostile to the pastoral notions of teamwork and brotherhood and a brick-hard bond with the fans. It felt increasingly like our sports stars soared in Learjets around the world while the rest of us lived in it.

Yet despite making millions of dollars - Eli and his brother Peyton made more like a half-billion - Manning never gave us the symbolic stiff-arm. He was so cool and calm, his drawl so disarming, you half expected him to have overalls under his shoulder pads. If Jeter was big time and Broadway all the way, Eli was warm milk and film study, far from red carpets and velvet ropes.

Both were the most essential members of our most vital pro teams. One just did it with big-city stye while the other painfully accepted praise. Not that Jeter begged us to look at him; he was simply too sublime at everything to ignore. Eli did it with his own understated, grinding and winding path to success. Jeter was seamless, surging to stardom after his first swing, while Eli slowly grew into his role as alpha male in a sport dripping with testosterone.

They were both all-time with one team, and somehow ducked the rancor reserved for Gotham's biggest sports stars. It was tough for Red Sox fans to despise Jeter, and it was hard for Cowboys fans to despise Eli, because each played the game and handled themselves with constant public modesty.

Jeter was so unfairly good at life that he backed into Page Six on occasion with his sparkling army of supermodel girlfriends. Eli got married, had kids, and we have no idea when any of it happened.

But beyond their humility, what kept Jeter and Eli relevant was that clutch gene that can't be taught, developed or forced. Jeter joined Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, by becoming Mr. November, his best deeds coming in long sleeves under brown leaves. Eli made his mark with his stone-hewn family DNA - he never missed a game because of injury in a sport that sees its stars drop like bowling pins - and his uncanny clutch play in the biggest games.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning runs out of the tunnel for a game against the Philadelphia Eagles Dec 9, 2019; Philadelphia, PA
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, WFAN’s Boomer Esiason mused over Manning's best games, from his apple-red-faced win in sub-zero Lambeau Field in the 2007 playoffs, to his Rocky Balboa performance against the 49ers in the 2011 playoffs. Just as Jeter has his signature play against the Red Sox, during which he dove into the stands by third base and emerged bloodied with ball in hand, Eli has taken a biblical NFL pounding and never tapped out.  

 So as different as they are physically and professionally, there's an implicit bond between Derek Jeter and Eli Manning. Each had a keen sense of timing, had plenty of talent, and tied all their skills together to make them unforgettable.

And while many greats must play a shell game to decide which hat or helmet they will wear for personal history, no one will ever doubt where Derek Jeter and Eli Manning belong for eternity - New York, New York.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel