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After watching Eli Manning’s retirement press conference, I felt compelled to write this open letter to him, thanking him for all he’s done for fans of the New York Giants.

Eli, you have shaped lives more than you realize, including mine.

Growing up isn’t easy for anyone. Everyone has their own right of passage to adulthood. As you get older, you find out things about yourself that you never knew. My love for the game of football was something I found later in life.

In middle school, I was a slightly overweight kid who knew almost nothing about sports. I wasn’t raised in a sports family, and knew nothing about any game, whether it be baseball, basketball, football or soccer.

Plenty of kids have a hard time fitting in. Not knowing a single thing about sports didn’t help my case. It only outcasted me further. I will tell you the few things that I did know about sports, because if you didn’t know the people I’m about to list, you probably lived under a rock for most of your life. During sports conversations, I only knew three names.

Those names were Eli Manning, Derek Jeter, and David Wright.

My mom learned of my quest to fit in and brought me to Queens Center Mall to buy my first sports jersey. I remember her asking the sales associate which jersey would be the best to get. The sales associate quickly replied, “Eli Manning.”I went home with an Eli Manning jersey. Keep in mind this is back when Reebok was making Giants’ gear.

It’s not that I never liked sports, it’s just that I was never introduced to it the way most kids are. As I prepared for high school, I was determined to reinvent myself. The sport I saw myself most interested in was football. With the help of my former trainer, Coach Willy Termine, I dove into the game of football and the New York Giants. I haven’t looked back since.

Now that I think about it, I became an avid fan of the New York Giants around 2009. Luckily, I had the chance to watch Eli Manning’s Super Bowl winning season against the undefeated New England Patriots. It’s sad to say that at that point in 2007, I had no clue what I was watching.

Despite winning the Super Bowl XLII and capitalizing with an impressive following season, the Giants leveled out at 8-8 in 2009. The New York Jets were all the rage when I started high school. As a freshman, New York City had taken flight and had Jets fever. The Jets were thriving under Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez.

You could imagine as a kid trying to fit in how tempting it was just to say that I was a part of the Sanchize, but I stuck to my guns and remained a dedicated fan of the New York Giants. It was from that moment on that my life changed forever.

Besides, I had that Eli Manning jersey readily waiting in my closet.

The months flew by, and I slowly became more familiar with football and my beloved New York Giants. I even joined my high school’s football team during my sophomore year, not having the slightest clue what I was doing.

I did this all to learn about football and find a place where I felt like I belonged. Around a year later, something magical happened. I must have banged my head pretty hard during my short tenure on the football team, because all of a sudden football finally made sense. Everything that I had been trying to learn suddenly clicked and I learned why football took over American sports. It was like my eyes finally opened.

The Giants became a part of my everyday life. I rallied behind Eli Manning, New York’s hero and New England’s worst nightmare. The more I saw from the New York Giants, the more I looked up to Eli Manning.

In college, I tried to make my love for the New York Giants a career path, when I decided on becoming a sportswriter. I went on to become a beat reporter covering the New York Giants for FanSided, interning for SportsNet New York, working for the New York Jets, and even managing to garner an interview with my beloved New York Football Giants. Sadly, I didn’t make the cut. Working in football wasn’t in the cards for me at that moment, and I now see why.

Eli Manning was more than a superstar quarterback to me. He was a leading example and role model of an exemplary man and football player. I personally believed Eli Manning had life all figured out, because there are very few that could handle the New York media as well as he did.

I always looked up to Eli. No matter the criticism or praise, his goal was to win football games. Eli was never one to get caught up in a scandal or pop off when another player decided to run their mouth about him. He was the perfect example of the saying, put up or shut up. In my eyes, this is how any athlete or competitor should act.

New York can be quite an interesting place to start a career, and not many make it through for the whole ride. Through the good and the bad, Eli Manning always kept the status quo. He always focused on the betterment of his team and never allowed the harsh critics any platform.

Now there are very few things that make me angry. I’m a generally nice guy, but the one thing that really grinds my gears is unjustly attacking the abilities of Eli Manning. I can’t count the amount of times that I vigorously defended Eli Manning, through the good, the bad, the unbelievable, and the ugly. It amazes me that some sports critics, commentators, and football fans have the audacity to deny Eli the credit he deserves.

As angry as I got for Eli, he always managed to keep the same, cool tempo when asked about his critics. Eli shut the critics out on multiple occasions, even leading to his retirement, where people are now debating his journey to Canton.

I look up to Eli for facing adversity, acting cool under immense pressure, and always taking the time to help others. Eli Manning truly was the perfect example of what a man and football player should be both on and off the field.

Watching Eli Manning give his retirement press conference was my first heartbreak as a sports fan. At the same time, I’m proud to say that I had the chance to witness in real time some of the greatest moments in sports history unravel around Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

I’m now 24 years old, and I am proud to say that Eli Manning has contributed to my life in more ways than one. Watching his career with the New York Giants blossom has taught me to be a better person in more ways the one.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is thanks for the inspiration Eli! You will truly be missed. I hope you enjoy retirement with your family.