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'It's been a heck of a run': Peyton Manning offers tribute as brother Eli retires from NFL

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Eli Manning wraps up a storied career, former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning reflected Thursday on the impact his brother and fellow quarterback left on the New York Giants and the National Football League.

"I'm happy for Eli, because I know he's at peace and he put a lot of time and thought into this decision," Manning said in a 20-minute interview about Eli's career. "But I am sad, because I won't get to see him play anymore. And after my dad and Dan Marino, Eli really was my favorite player. So I have to find a new one. But for really 19 years going back to his three years at Ole Miss, 16 years in the NFL, I have enjoyed watching him play, watching him compete, watching him grow into a man. It's been a heck of a run."

Eli, who will hold a press conference on Friday in New York, retires from the game as a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP.

Since retiring following the 2015 season, Peyton has attended several of Eli's games, including his final home start for the Giants.

"I really have enjoyed watching him play in person a lot more," Manning said. "I've been averaging about three games a season during the years that I was retired. I certainly got to keep up with his games more. And once again, I wasn't talking to him every day during the week, but could ask him about the game plan and what the Dolphins are doing on defense. But to go see him play and take my kids down to the locker room and have the chance for them to see their uncle, that was a real thrill. So I'll miss that. I've been doing it for a long time. In college, I'd go back and see Eli play one game a year in high school. When I was in the NFL, I'd go see him play one game a year in college. And just to see this growth and development each year — he was just a year older, a year stronger, a year more mature — so I've been seeing him play a long time. I will definitely miss that, but I'll have great memories of the journey."

Manning's respect is deeper than just that of a sibling.

"As his brother, I have such admiration and love for him," Manning said. "But as a quarterback, I have incredible respect for his toughness, his accountability [and] his leadership skills."

More from Peyton's tribute to Eli

On Eli's Hall of Fame candidacy:

"To me, it's the time to look back and reflect. Everybody else wants to look ahead and have this debate — and I understand it's just the world we live in, but I know Eli doesn't think like that, and I don't think like that either. I certainly have my strong feelings and opinions on it, that when you're the Super Bowl MVP twice against the greatest dynasty of all time — the New England Patriots [with] Tom Brady and Bill Belichick — and you join a list that includes Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Eli Manning as the only [two-time] Super Bowl MVPs, that kind of — I don't really know what that term 'Drop the mic' is, but I guess if there was one, if I had a mic … there really is no 'Yeah, but' after that. That kind of ends it. But if you want a 'Yeah, but,' he also started 220-plus consecutive games. He's sixth or seventh all time in touchdowns. It wasn't like he just played those two seasons. He also just answered the bell, played his butt off, won some huge games for his team. So, I have strong opinions on it, but I'm going to pull an Eli — I'm going to kind of live in the present right now and kind of look back a little bit and not look too far ahead and get too worried about it."

On playing against each other three times in the NFL:

"It's funny, those games — he and I really did not enjoy those games, because look, nobody pulled harder for Eli than me. Nobody pulled harder for me than Eli. There's just this always kind of having each other's backs. I will say about those three games, you can't really make it up, but for the national anthem before the game, he and I are on the exact same yard line 50 yards across from each other. And I remember just taking a moment and going, 'Now this is kind of cool. That's my little brother over there. We're about to play in front of 85,000 in New York or in Indianapolis, and we're lined up on the same yard line singing the national anthem.' That's a memory that I'll always have with me."

On his favorite Super Bowl memory:

"I got to play in four Super Bowls, I got to be on the winning side of two, and I think people don't really believe me or are surprised [when I say] my greatest Super Bowl memory is watching my little brother take the New York Giants down the field in a two-minute drill and beat the undefeated Patriots and all that came with that. Maybe I wasn't as happy as the '72 Dolphins, who I promise you were celebrating and they're on record saying that, but I was pretty close. It was just pride and he's five years younger than me and you kind of reflect on the times growing up. Cooper had gone off to college. It was just he and I. I used to drive Eli to school, and he literally would not say a word the whole time, and a couple times I like missed the exit for his school, and he wouldn't tell me. I was like, 'Eli, you knew that was your exit. Why didn't you tell me?' He was a quiet, calm and cool kid. So you sort of have those memories when you watch something like that happen in front of you. There in Arizona, it was kind of surreal. So that's my greatest Super Bowl memory without a doubt, even more than the ones I was able to participate in. He did it. There's a famous Bill Parcells quote after he tells their team: 'Don't let anybody ever tell you that you couldn't do it, because you did it.' He did it, and he did it the right way for a long time."

On his first time attending a game of Eli's in the NFL:

"I can remember in that rough patch [early in his career], he had a game against the Vikings, and I was there. I went to the game on our bye weekend, and they had a tough day, the Giants did, so the Vikings won. So I said, 'OK, maybe I shouldn't be coming to NFL games, because maybe I'm a jinx.' I had a good record when he was in high school and college. I saw him beat Alabama, beat LSU. I said, 'Maybe this NFL [has made it] change.' So he gets to the Super Bowl, and I said, 'Eli, I can't come to the game [because of] that Vikings game.' He says, 'Peyton, I hate to burst your bubble, but you don't have that much power to impact a game. It wasn't your fault that we didn't beat the Vikings. I want you to come to the Super Bowl.' I was like, 'OK, I'm relieved now. I can go.'"

On Eli's time with the Giants:

"He handled himself the right way on the field, off the field — in New York, in that market. Never skipped an interview, never did not show up at the podium after a game, especially after a loss. Nowadays, we've got guys that are there early after a win. When they lose, they don't talk to the media. Eli answered the bell on that end every single Sunday, Monday night, Sunday night. And then off the field, he was doing the right things in the community, there in the New York, New Jersey area. He's a true New Yorker, New Jersey guy now. He lives there, he spends the summers there. He actually uses the word 'summers' — he summers. I didn't know that was a verb. He used to be a Southern kid from New Orleans, and now he's a true New York, New Jersey guy. My point is, he went all in and [was] involved in all the great community projects and helping beat cancer [through] research and giving back to the March of Dimes organizations, what he's done in Mississippi. He's not forgotten where he came from, [where he] went to college, what he's done down in New Orleans, the work going back to help Katrina victims. So, I certainly was proud of him when he won that Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. It was well deserved and I really agree with John Mara that Eli was a giant on the field and off the field. I know Eli loved playing quarterback, but I think more than that, he loved playing quarterback for the New York Giants. So to play just for one team the entire career, that's what every quarterback I think aspires to. For me, I got injured early and the Colts were going to move on and I had to find a new place to play, but 16 years with the New York Giants, that's what Eli wanted to do. So he's starting and stopping with the team that he was supposed to be with, and it's been a heck of a run during that time."

On Eli's best prank:

"He's the silent assassin. You've really got to watch him. And it's just a great — it's a release from that intense game-planning and the film study. Every now and then, [it's] 'OK, the hay's in the barn. I've watched all the film. Let's go laugh and be a part of the locker room and the bus rides.' That's what I miss the most, kind of that camaraderie with your teammates. The wins and the celebrations, but also the jokes and the pranks. The best one Eli got me on was we were on a golf trip one time and we were staying in the same room and my bed was kind of up against the corner, and I was taking a nap. And he jumps on top of me and gives me almost an atomic wedgie. And he had all the leverage. My shoulders were stuck in the corner. I couldn't get out. I just had to take it. I haven't been able to get him back. Maybe if we get a chance to play some more golf together, maybe I'll have a chance to get him back. Right now he's still one up on me."

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