Eli Manning signs Batson Children’s Hospital patient Anthony Gastireau’s cast during a visit to the state’s only children’s hospital in 2015.

We can’t pretend to know what the future holds for Eli Manning, demoted this week from his long-held job as starting quarterback for the New York Giants.

We don’t know if he will keep playing beyond this season. Don’t know if he will continue as a back-up and tutor for Daniel Jones, the Duke product who takes his place. Don’t know if he might possibly play some place else.

Rick Cleveland

But I do know this from covering Manning through the years, first at Newman High in New Orleans, then at Ole Miss and then with the Giants. Whatever he does, he will do with impeccable class. He will hold his head high. He will do the right thing.

As we say in Mississippi, he was raised right.

I am reminded of how his father handled a similar situation years and years ago. After risking life and limb for nearly 12 seasons with the then-hapless New Orleans Saints, Archie Manning was cast away by new coach Bum Phillips, who traded him to the Houston Oilers.

Many Saints fans – and especially those in Mississippi – were heartbroken. Archie had to be. He and Olivia had made New Orleans their home. Despite a totally mismanaged franchise and a largely abysmal, ever-changing supporting cast, Archie had scrambled – and lasted – through six previous head coaches, countless wide receivers and a cast of offensive linemen who seemingly all had one thing in common. That is, they couldn’t block.

Archie Manning.

Archie Manning could have raised a stink. He could have said something like: “And this is the way you say thanks…”

Instead, he went to Houston and took almost daily round trip flights back and forth to New Orleans to have dinner with Olivia and their sons and put the boys to bed. Houston then traded him to Minnesota for the post-Bud Grant experiment that did not go well.

But whether starting or playing back-up, Archie did his job, kept his chin up, always said and did the right thing until his retirement in 1984.

It could not have been easy.

And it will not be for Eli, who led the Giants to two Super Bowl rings and will go down in NFL history, no matter what else happens, as the quarterback who slayed Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowls – not once, but twice.

Eli Manning has nothing for which to apologize as a quarterback or a leader.

He certainly has nothing to apologize for as a human being or a role model.

Eli and Abby Manning

Charities and causes in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and, especially, Mississippi have Eli and wife Abby to thank for millions upon millions of dollars of badly needed funding.

In Mississippi, the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics opened in 2009, thanks to the leadership and support of Eli and Abby Manning, in partnership with Friends of Children’s Hospital. The couple raised more than $2.5 million to make the clinics possible. They have been honorary co-chairs of a Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, led by Joe and Kathy Sanderson, that has raised almost $76 million to date. Furthermore, the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi has provided almost $1.3 million in support of UMMC.

Said Dan Jones, formerly vice-chancellor of UMMC and chancellor at Ole Miss, “Eli and Abby have been all-in in the fundraising… Believe me, there aren’t many Elis. He is his Daddy and Mama’s son. I’ve never been around a more humble, more generous athlete.”

All those previous figures on fundraising do not include Eli and Abby’s personal, out-of-pocket contributions.

As Jones put it, “They do that quietly.”

And maybe we should close with this thought: How much better would this state, this country and this world be if all professional athletes, who make so many millions, gave back to society in the manner Eli Manning has?

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.