Yesterday evening, I came across the news that Eli Manning is calling it quits as a quarterback in the NFL — the 39 year-old is retiring after 16 seasons. Hearing this triggered an abundance of nostalgic feelings inside of me, most likely because a little less than 16 years ago, I met Eli Manning. It was June of 2004 and roughly two months earlier, the youngest of Archie Manning’s three sons was selected as the first pick in the NFL Draft.
Our meeting took place in one of America’s largest and grandest cities — Houston, Texas.
Houston is famous for many things — most notably, it’s the city where 2Pac got his iconic “THUG LIFE” tattoo.
In case you’re not familiar with the largest city in Texas, here are some lesser known facts about H-Town:
- It’s the 4th largest city in the U.S.
- There’s only a couple dozen trees in Houston and no living grass.
- Minute Maid has its headquarters in Houston.
- It’s the home to Houston Space Center.
Moving right along…
If I had to guess, Eli was in town getting a replica “THUG LIFE” tattoo at the same place Tupac Shakur got his.
Not me. I was visiting — along with my Mom, Dad, brother and sister — only for a couple of hours, and only to see George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I was there for a flight layover and for mine and Eli’s universes to collide.
After my family and I deplaned our aircraft, we decided we’d set our bags down and get some lunch. I led the way and found a plot of three 2-top tables, all vacant and next to each other. I plopped my bag down on the far left table of the three and sat down.Without being obvious, I looked a few feet to my left. I quickly wanted to see what kind of stranger I was sitting next to. I was expecting it to be one of the usual people you find yourself sitting next to at an airport, such as:
- A slob with poor hygiene, dressed in clothes to mow the yard in.
- A business man or woman sitting quietly alone.
- An airport employee taking a break.
- A rude weirdo that invades my personal space with his luggage.
It was none of the above. It was Eli Manning, eating a messy bbq sandwich, and I recognized him immediately.
At the time, I was an English major at the University of Florida and a die-hard Gators football fan. Unlike no other SEC quarterback of that era against Florida, I watched Eli beat UF not once, but twice — his second victory against the Gators came in Gainesville. I was quite familiar with the youngest Manning and what he looked like.
To validate my observation, I pointed him out to my Dad and brother, and they also immediately agreed it was Eli. I decided I was going to interrupt his peaceful meal to get an autograph. I fumbled around in my backpack for anything to do with college football, and decided a pamphlet for University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts would do.
As I was waiting for my spark of courage to walk the three steps over to Manning, he looked at me. Instead of approaching him, I took that as my cue. I started blabbering words together. I was trying to pay him a compliment while letting him know that even though he was the reason the team I root for lost twice, I respect his talent and want to be friends.
I said something along the lines of, “Hey, man, I go to Florida. You kicked our ass the last two years!!! AND BUHHHLEEEEEEEVE ME, us Gators suuuuuure are happy ya won’t be playing us again, HAHHAHHH! hehh hehh hehh hehh… ahehh”
His response to what I had to say was an emotionless “oh.”
It was then that my Dad stepped-in and saved me from my shrugged-off, doomed introduction. My Pops started talking and organized with Eli that me and my brother were gonna take a picture with him. I don’t recall Manning saying much to this either, but my Dad didn’t give him the choice. The 1st pick of the 2004 NFL Draft just looked up — with bbq sauce still on his fingers — and stared at our camera for the picture.
Next, I asked Eli to sign my liberal arts pamphlet. He did. I said “thank you.” He said “mmhmm,” then gathered his small cloth duffel bag, threw it over his right shoulder, pulled it tight to his back like a backpack, and walked away, disappearing into the mass of people.
It’s weird to think that such a quick moment in my life, with very little social interaction or dialogue involved, is something I will probably always remember. I’m sure Eli forgot it ever happened, and never thought about this again by the next day.
The photo he took with us shows him as a man who probably just wanted to be left alone, but agreed to this picture to appease us. The thought of smiling or making himself look friendly probably wasn’t a concern of his, because personal pictures back then stayed personal.
Nonetheless, I’m thankful for his time and his kind nature that day.
After-all, just four years earlier, Eminem wrote a song called “The Way I Am,” where he made it perfectly clear that celebrities are still humans and they don’t owe us — the general public — shit:
“At least have the decency in you,
to leave me alone when you freaks see me out —
In the streets, when I’m eating or feeding my daughter —
To not come and speak to me. I don’t knoooowwwwww youuuuuu,
And no, I don’t owwwwwwe youuuuuu a moth-er-fuck-iiiiiiing thing.
I’m not Mr. N’Sync, I’m not what your friends think,
I’m not Mr. Friendly, I can be a prick.”
Looking Back on the World Directly Before Eli’s NFL Career began
In June 2004, the world was in its last dwindling stages of the old communications era. Social Media was around, but it didn’t have a grip on the interactions between the majority of the world’s population, nor was social media considered a major avenue to consume news and information.
Places like Myspace and Facebook were just websites, not communication & marketing machines. You’d visit them to kill a little time, but there wasn’t much to do with either platform.
In fact, I had never even heard of Facebook in June 2004. I joined Facebook in December of 2004, back when you could only join if you had an authentic email address provided to you from the university you were attending.
There were no Iphones. You couldn’t yet browse the internet on your phone.
Cameras on phones were just recently introduced, and I knew only one person who had a picture taking phone.
No one texted. I didn’t receive my first text message until St. Patrick’s Day of 2006. A lassie I had met earlier that evening hollered at me after I departed MacDinton’s in Tampa, Florida. I didn’t know what the text was or how she sent it to me. I thought she sent it from Instant Messenger on her desktop computer. I had no idea what to do to make my phone reply back to her. Up until that night of my life, the numeric digits on my phone were only used for dialing phone numbers to make phone calls.
The picture me and my brother have with Eli Manning was snapped on a bulky digital camera. Eli probably had no idea this picture would be something shared with the world one day. In 2004, pictures of him made available to the general public were provided by newspapers, magazines, and a very short list of websites — most likely all of those sites run by a newspaper or magazine.
“Selfie” was not a word yet nor was it a way anyone took pictures of themselves. You asked other people to take pictures of yourself. If you wanted to be included in a group shot, you would find the least criminal looking stranger around, ask them to take a picture of you all, then hope they didn’t run off with your camera.
Not only did Eli Manning’s retirement announcement send me on a trip down Nostalgia BLVD, it also gave me the ability to reflect on where society was with our use of technology in 2004. It gave me a tangible experience to use as a gauge, directly before Eli Manning’s career began. The American public’s use of handheld technology just prior to his rookie season, compared with now at his career’s end is astounding. He is one of the last NFL players and/or professional athletes to begin their career before social media was everywhere and everything. His career began in one worldly era, and ended in another.
Dreams Inspired by Eli
My subconscious mind also was intellectually provoked, because last night I had a dream about me and Eli Manning. Here it is, portrayed visually…
16 years after we met, Eli leaves the game of football as the highest paid player in NFL history. His career salary earnings topped $254,200,000.
And while I’m still more than 253 million behind him in my own career earnings, it is nice to know that I still have a chance to match his career pay. I have an estimated 27 more years of work before I can retire.
For now, all I can do is keep grinding and dreaming.
Eli Manning’s grind is over. He is newly retired and a father to three daughters. I hope he gets to enjoy a great deal of time with his daughters as he watches them grow. I’m sure his time spent with his family in the following years will be far more valuable to him than $254 million ever will be.
And who knows — maybe one day Eli and I will come full-circle and he will write a column for The DadaDADiest. Only he knows if he wants to take on writing as a hobby during his retirement. Only I know how cool that would be for me and The DadaDADiest.
If not, I owe you a BBQ sandwich, Eli… I promise I’ll let you enjoy it in peace.
Published: 1/24/2020. Copyright © 2020 TheDadaDADiest.com