The patriarch of football's first family gauged the emotions of his youngest son, who gave way to Geno Smith at the request of the team brass.
"It just flat broke his heart," Archie Manning told NFL.com on Thursday. Today, with Eli Manning not starting for the first time in 210 games, the focus isn't just on the field. Perhaps the biggest question is what happens to Manning after 2017? According to Archie Manning, one possibility for Eli is retirement.
"There's no sense speculating," Archie said. "If he's still there, we don't know what their future plans are, if other people are there. And you have no idea what other teams will think of a 37-year-old quarterback. You don't have any idea.
"Eli might say, 'I've had enough. I'm feeling good. I've got a beautiful wife, three little girls, I'm healthy. And that's it.' So there's no sense speculating."
This week behind closed doors, in the QB room, Eli has handled himself like the pro he is, working hard to get Smith ready to go, per a team source.
But of course, the talk is about Manning's future. His status first came into question when owner John Mara asked general manager Jerry Reese, "don't you think it's time that we start to get a look at these other quarterbacks at some point during the games?" Reese agreed, he had talked to coach Ben McAdoo, and the decision was made. But the way it was handled has been criticized this week by the media and in NFL circles.
"I was upfront and honest with Eli and I don't have any regrets there," said McAdoo, who added that "it's a decision based off us being 2-9. We're 2-9, we're out of contention, and we need to make sure we evaluate the roster top to bottom."
Archie Manning called it "not a great situation" but said he would never criticize the Mara or Tisch families and that he would not pile on McAdoo. Asked to describe how it went, Manning said he believed the word from McAdoo to Eli was essentially "'OK, I'm taking you out after a while to play the other guys.' And Eli was like, 'Are you starting me just because of the record?' Ben said, 'Yeah, I guess so.' "And Eli was like, 'screw that.'" That was not the way Mara wanted it handled, Archie believed.
"For John Mara," Archie said, "he thought it was going to be, hey, 'We're going to play the kids if it works out. If the game was out of hand or if Eli is struggling, they'll pull him.'"
In other words, a miscommunication of the message. The Giants wanted to evaluate their roster, but perhaps it never quite got to Manning that the focus was on evaluation, not finding a scapegoat. Archie added that Eli is not mad. But for the Giants to decide he wasn't their full-time starter stung him.
"We had our team, we loved our team," Archie said. "But for Eli... it's always kind of been like this: Eli's passion for the Giants goes deeper than most and I've mentioned it through the years. Eli loves playing for the New York Giants. He just does. He just loves it, I think more than most. So therefore, it broke his heart."
There was an incredible response from the quarterback fraternity. Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and others called or texted. Announcers, coaches, friends, everyone called. And while it was all good-hearted, "when he thought he was through, someone else would send him a text. It just piled on the emotion," Archie said.
"He's over the worst day. That was the worst day."
What did Peyton say? "You don't want to hear what Peyton said," Archie laughed.
"Let's let it play out," Archie said. "There will be some changes, some things will happen, there will be some options. No sense in declaring anything when we just don't know."
Manning could waive his no-trade clause. He could remain with the Giants to groom a young QB, with Mara noting, "I don't think we should be writing his obituary just yet." Eli was already spotted this week helping Webb prepare in the team's cafeteria.
By the way, Manning did meet with Mara this week. Father asked son how it went.
"You know, Eli is a man of few words," Archie said. "I did text him, 'Did you meet with Mr. Mara?' I got back a three-word text:
"'It went well.'"