Eli Manning won the 2020 Pro Football "Good Guy" Award for his dealings with reporters, and it's well deserved.
ESPN's Ian O'Connor pointed out that Manning was the kind of guy who would talk to reporters on Mondays "after losses, not wins, so he could take blame but not steal any credit from teammates."
Eli will always be one of my favorites, partly because of how easy he was to work with when he was at the University of Mississippi. I have two quick stories about him.
In his sophomore year, I called the Rebels' media relations office to set up a telephone interview with him. I didn't think it would work out. At that time, most quarterbacks were going to blow off any interview with non-local reporters who didn't work with ESPN. Heck, most quarterbacks were going to blow off the local reporters, too.
Even so, I was told they would call the next day at 1 p.m. with Eli on the phone. Sure enough, the next day at 1, the phone rang. Someone from the media relations staff said, "I've got Eli, but please don't keep him more than 10 minutes. He's got a class at 1:20."
Eli took the phone, and I said first, "Don't worry, Eli, I'll keep an eye on the clock so you aren't late to class."
Pleasant as could be, he answered, "You're fine. The class is close by."
He was generous with his answers and didn't treat the interview like he was rushed. I did keep an eye on the clock, and as the appointed minute neared, I told him he was free to go. He thanked me for my time.
When he was a senior, I covered Mississippi's game at Auburn, and Eli's team won, which meant they needed only to beat LSU to make the SEC Championship Game. They hadn't won an SEC championship since Eli's dad, Archie Manning, was Mississippi's quarterback.
In the interview room where Mississippi's players met with reporters, I waited until the crowd around Eli thinned, and when I joined, there were only three of us. By that point, Eli already had answered everything worth discussing about the game, but he was patient with us.
At one point, I looked over and saw Archie on the other side of the room. The great Archie Manning didn't look like the guy who had led the Rebels to glory and eventually was a longtime NFL quarterback. Instead, he looked like a proud dad. He looked exhausted, as if he had played every down for his son.
I watched Archie for a few moments before turning back to Eli. I didn't realize it until that point but I was the only reporter left around him. He just looked at me with a bemused expression, waiting to ask another question. I said to him, "Eli, I think I'd like to go over and talk to your dad."
He just smiled and said, "Good decision."
Mississippi didn't win the conference that year. That LSU team was the first of the Nick Saban juggernaut and beat the Rebels 17-14. Eli is a former Super Bowl champion, though, and while there probably are nicer guys who won Super Bowls, there can't be too many.