By Danielle DeSimone

Last week, service members and military families dusted off their football jerseys and sat down to watch Eli Manning live on-screen.

But this time, they weren’t watching Manning play on the field.

Instead, service members from around the world settled in with their favorite device for the special opportunity to chat directly with the two-time Super Bowl champion in a livestreamed video call as part of a USO Virtual Tour.

The MVP quarterback, who is known for his dedication to charity, spent nearly an hour answering questions from service members and military families who were stationed and deployed all around the world.

Manning Answers ‘Hard-Hitting’ Questions from Military Kids

While NFL fans of all ages from the military community joined the live video chat, it was some of Manning’s youngest supporters who were the most enthusiastic during the call.

During the video chat, a handful of lucky military children – many of whom were decked out head-to-toe in New York Giants gear – appeared on screen to personally ask the recently retired New York Giants player a question.

Some asked for advice on how to stay sharp during quarantine, a few requested tips on how to achieve their own dreams of reaching the NFL and others asked the most hard-hitting questions of all, such as: “Do you like playing football in the snow?” and “What’s your favorite color?” (no surprise here: it’s Big Blue).

Photo credit USO photo

Eli Manning video chats with a military child.

Manning answered all of these military children’s questions with sincerity and uplifting advice. As a father of four, he has kept busy during quarantine by homeschooling his own children alongside his wife, as well as staying active as a family through bike rides and pick-up games of football.

“With retirement, everyone was asking me, ‘How are you going to stay busy?’” Manning said. “But staying busy has not been a problem.”

He then shared a sentiment that many parents in lockdown can relate to: although he knew how to do fractions he definitely didn’t know how to teach fractions, he joked.

For military families listening and chiming in from home, this relatable, shared moment from one of football’s biggest stars was a wonderful moment of connection. Although the entire world is currently struggling with lockdowns, quarantines, home schooling and health risks, service members must tackle all of this alongside the additional stress of serving on the front lines of both war zones and the pandemic.

It may seem small, but for troops and their families, hearing an encouraging word from a Super Bowl champion can sometimes make all the difference.

Advice from a Super Bowl Champion

Military children weren’t the only ones who got to join Manning on-screen.

Service members, many of them longtime Giants fans, had the chance to speak with Manning as well. The quarterback spent a great deal of time answering their questions about everything from highlights of his career to what he plans on doing next, now that he is retired from the NFL.

Regardless of the conversation topic, Manning offered military listeners words of wisdom from the football field that could easily be applied to the challenges of military life. This especially held true when discussing how he faced losses or setbacks.

“There’s always going to be that [bad] game … where you always wonder, ‘Why did that happen? I know I’ve worked extremely hard, I game-planned, I studied, the commitment was there’ – and I knew I just had to trust the process,” Manning said.

“I was doing the work and preparing as much as I could. I was trying to be a good leader and I just knew I had to continue to do the right thing … and it would get better. I would make strides, I would make improvements and my teammates would rally around me.”

It was clear in Manning’s conversations with service members that his belief in teamwork and lifting others up has played a major role in his success both on and off the field. In fact, when asked what his greatest professional achievement was, the NFL player didn’t list stats or titles.

Photo credit USO photo

Eli Manning participates in a USO Virtual Tour.

Although winning championships was important to him, the award that he was most proud of was when he was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year by the NFL in 2017. Manning was the first Giants player to receive the award in the team’s 47-year history, and it was especially important to him because the award – which is chosen based on votes from peers – acknowledges a player’s volunteer and charity work.

Aside from his support of the military, Manning has also dedicated himself to supporting at-risk communities in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as well as children’s cancer care, environmental causes and – most recently – relief for those affected by COVID-19 in New York.

“I don’t help others to be recognized, but the fact that my fellow teammates and NFL players did see the work, it hopefully motivated them to get involved in their communities,” Manning said.

“People saw that a difference was being made, and that we were making progress … and helping people in need. [Being named Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year] gave me the opportunity to get on that platform and raise more awareness for the charities that are dear to me and the people I wanted to help. So, I think that was probably my biggest achievement that made the biggest impact.”

A Chance to Give Back to Our Military

Giant’s Quarterback Eli Manning and Tackle Kareem McKenzie show their appreciation for the USO in 2010. | Photo credit USO photo by Julian Smith

Manning is no stranger to giving back to the military. His brother and fellow NFL legend, Peyton Manning, has been on several USO tours throughout the years, and Eli Manning and the New York Giants hosted the USO at their training camp in 2010, where Manning stated: “I’m proud to be in this country with a chance to play football because of soldiers who, over the course of history have, and continue to, make unimaginable sacrifices.”

Today, Manning continues to support our nation’s military and expressed his gratitude.

“Thank you for all that you do in protecting us and protecting our freedoms. I just want you to know that on behalf of myself, my family and the New York Giants, we so appreciate your selflessness and your commitment to protecting us,” Manning said. “I know … you don’t always get applauded for every action that you do – and that’s not why you’re doing this – but we applaud you and we thank you.”

Above all else, Manning expressed his concern for the safety of service members and their families and the need to stay connected with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We just want you – all of you – to please stay safe during this time. I know it’s tough on everybody, and everybody’s going through struggles, so thank goodness for technology where you can get on [video] calls and see your families for those who are on deployment or away in different countries. So, God bless, thank you so much, and stay safe out there.”