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Derek Jeter offers wisdom to fellow New York icon Eli Manning

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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
Eli (left) and Peyton Manning attended a New York Yankees game -- as guests of Derek Jeter -- back in May.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., and EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Derek Jeter sits at his locker in a visiting clubhouse, he is mired in an 0-for-24 slump that will include four more hitless at-bats before it ends. The shortstop/captain's New York Yankees career, spanning two decades and including five World Series championships, will end before October.

One day earlier, Eli Manning had thrown two interceptions as the New York Giants lost their second straight game to open the season, 25-14 to the Arizona Cardinals, rekindling memories of an 0-6 start last year. One online headline asked: "Is (the) curtain closing on Eli Manning's career?"

When presented with this -- the general idea of Manning and his legion of doubters -- Jeter shakes his head, offers a slight chuckle.

What would he say to Eli?

"Don't read the papers, don't listen to it. That's the bottom line. Stay positive," Jeter says. "That's the only way you can deal with it. It's tough. It's tough to avoid it, because you're constantly asked questions about it. So you know the angle, you know what's being written. But you've got to stay positive, regardless."

In other years, Jeter's answer might've ended there. On this day, on the cusp of retirement, he adds: "And have fun, make the most of it. Careers don't last forever. So enjoy it as much as you can."

Careers don't last forever. It only seems as if Jeter's has. If anyone understands Manning's lot lately, heavy on criticism and scrutiny, it might be Jeter. Both men are former champions who've delivered when it's mattered most. They play in the world's biggest media market and in a time when what you've done in the past 15 minutes might trump what you've accomplished in the past 15 years.

While Sunday's 30-17 win over the Houston Texans allowed Eli and the Giants to exhale -- significantly, the quarterback threw no interceptions -- Manning knows there is talk, no longer a whisper, that his best days are behind him. His second of two Super Bowl victories was three seasons ago, but somehow seems more distant.

"Between the first two (Super Bowls), there was four years," Manning says. "I know, having gone through it, (it's not) easy to win championships. I understand what has to happen, how many breaks you have to get, how you have to win games, how much of a grind it is. We're going to keep working. I think that's what makes it special when you do it -- because you've earned the right to be champions."

Jeter knows that better than most.

"You have to realize, it's not easy," says Jeter, whose Yankees championships came in a bunch -- 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 -- and then after a long drought, in 2009. "At times, certain guys make things look easy. Even when it looks easy, it doesn't come easy. There's a lot of work behind (winning a championship). Hey, it's sports, but like anything in life, you're going to have good years, you're going to have bad years.

"But you want to be consistent. Your personality needs to be consistent, your work ethic needs to be consistent. Everything you do needs to remain consistent. What's the saying -- tough times don't last, tough people do? I think you can look at the history of professional athletes, and they've all had tough periods."

Jeter's worst slump, 0-for-32, came in April 2004. His 0-for-28 skid this month ranks second. Particularly from a distance, it might seem as if his career has been a baseball fairy tale, all champagne celebrations and standing ovations -- in other words, nothing like what Manning is going through now.

"Huh? What? C'mon, now," Jeter, 40, says playfully. "My career was 'over' five years ago."

Jeter's remarkable 20-year career will end Sunday at Fenway Park. His last home game is Thursday, when he bids farewell to Yankees fans. In every ballpark in which the Yankees have played this season, he has been hailed as a departing hero, a player the likes of which might not be seen again.

He leaves a legacy of No. 2's in baseball -- Troy Tulowitzki and B.J. Upton among them -- and Johnny Manziel has said he chose to wear the number because of Jeter.

"I heard that when he was in college, (but) I have never met Johnny," Jeter says. "You're playing a game, and in my mind, I still think I'm young. But anytime anyone pays homage to you, it makes you feel good."

It was back in 2004 when Jeter and Manning initially connected, Eli a rookie in the process of losing the first six games he started. A call came, out of the blue, to Manning's cell phone on a Saturday night before a Sunday game. It was Jeter.

"He said, 'Keep grinding, keep working hard, keep your head up and things will get easier,' " Eli recalls. "It meant a lot to me at the time. I was trying to figure things out. I was trying to learn to play quarterback in New York, with the New York media and everything that goes along with being an athlete in this area.

"Obviously I knew who Derek Jeter was, and he was playing great and winning championships and seemed to have everything going for him. I appreciated him just reaching out to me. Maybe (it was because he) knew what it was like as a rookie."

Since then, Manning has played in Jeter's golf tournament in Tampa, Florida, benefitting his Turn 2 Foundation, and the two see each other occasionally at events in Manhattan. In May, Eli and Peyton Manning were Jeter's guests at a Yankees game. Peyton said that day he and Jeter talked retirement.

"I hope I know when the right time is," Peyton said at the time. "I know that was a hard decision for Derek; I know it'll be hard for me. But I can tell he's at peace with it and he's enjoying this season."

Jeter mentioned conversationally back in 2005 that he rooted for Eli because he admired the way he conducted himself. Eli has long said he has modeled his dealings with the media after what he saw from Jeter, particularly in terms of being accountable, putting team above self and not saying anything that could become a tabloid headline.

Both longtime team captains, Jeter and Manning embrace the great responsibility each has within his organization.

"People pay so much attention to the statistical part of sports," Jeter says. "Sometimes you can help out other guys on your team, (do) things people don't necessarily see, which I'm sure he's doing."

An example: In the season opener, Manning took sole blame for an interception on a pass intended for Larry Donnell, a 25-year-old tight end playing a substantial role for the first time in 2014. Donnell told NFL.com this week that he should have run a sharper route in reacting to the defense, and the fault was at least partly his. He also said he appreciated Manning taking the rap.

With Jeter's departure, there is an unofficial passing of the torch, as the 33-year-old Manning becomes the most accomplished, longest-tenured athlete in New York. Manning laughs at the notion.

"No," Manning says. "I think we're losing a superstar in Derek Jeter, a guy who's been so good for so long and won championships and been a class act. He's been the face of the New York Yankees. We'll miss him. You can't replace him, and that's not my job. My job is to try to win games for the Giants and learn from the things Derek's done well and the way he's conducted himself. And he'll always be a role model for me."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports

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