Eli Manning packed his belongings into a brown briefcase and walked through the double doors toward an uncertain future, and hardly anyone in the locker room noticed.
A Giants spokesperson standing nearby said Manning was not conducting postgame interviews, and the overshadowed goodbye ended there. He headed off to join his wife and children on the other side of the wall as attention shifted to the potential firings of Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman.
There was something unnatural about watching a bundled-up Manning’s buttocks glued to the end of the bench during his likely final two quarters with the Giants — possibly his final two in a Hall of Fame-caliber career.
Wearing a winter coat and a knit hat, Manning sat out of sight Sunday as rookie quarterback Daniel Jones rallied the Giants to two game-tying third-quarter touchdowns but committed the turnovers that ruined a chance at victory in a 34-17 loss to the Eagles.
There was no goodbye tribute video and even a faint late fourth-quarter “We want Eli!” chant was drowned out because MetLife Stadium mostly was inhabited by rowdy Eagles fans at that point. There will be a Ring of Honor ceremony someday — and maybe a retirement press conference soon — but this struck a sad note.
When the game ended, Manning was encircled by cameras, hugged Eagles veterans Josh McCown and Brandon Graham, shook hands with other opponents, and waved to a small appreciative crowd before disappearing into the tunnel, where he received a pat on the back from a security guard on his way into the locker room.
“It wasn’t like the Miami game,” co-captain Michael Thomas said.
Indeed it was a far cry from the near-perfect send-off Manning received two weeks ago, when he started for an injured Jones and led the Giants to a come-from-behind victory against the Dolphins. The home crowd chanted his name early, and stood for a curtain call as he fought back tears from the sideline for the final two minutes of play.
Maybe this was more fitting for the team-first Manning, who never wanted too much of the spotlight, despite playing the most important position in the biggest city for 16 years.
If Manning wanted a big fuss around him, he would’ve already made clear his intentions for 2020. He doesn’t want to be a backup — which essentially rules out a return to the Giants — but he has not said whether he will retire or compete for the starting job with another team after a record amount of time with the Giants.
“I don’t know what the future holds for him here, there, but I feel like, being around him, he truly has no regrets,” receiver Golden Tate said. “He played the game the right way and did his best, no matter what the situation was. So, I commend him for that.”
Manning strolled into the home locker room a few minutes before 1 p.m. — 3 ½ hours before kickoff — wearing a navy blue vest over long sleeves and carrying his bag.
Manning led the quarterbacks and centers out for warm-ups, to a mostly quiet reaction, with 49 minutes on the pregame clock. He threw his usual array of slants to receivers, comebacks to tight ends and the rest of the route tree.
When his face was shown on one of the large stadium screen, fans hardly noticed because the adjacent screen showed the NFL Red Zone channel and clutch touchdowns by the Packers and Dolphins.
In the first half, Manning hovered around the 50-yard line when the Giants offense was on the field, wearing an earpiece with a wire running down to his waist and keeping his hands in a warmer, like a backup quarterback does.
Signs scattered around the stadium thanked Manning, including a woman whose homemade artwork declared him her forever champion.
“Eli was huge for my growth, my development. Obviously, he’s a legendary player, and there’s a reason — because he understands the game,” Jones said. “I’m lucky to be able to learn from him and just spend time with him.”
The torch has been passed.
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