"I think it's a great storyline with Tom [Brady] and what he's been able to accomplish this year," Eli Manning tells PEOPLE of Super Bowl LV this weekend

By Lindsay Kimble
February 01, 2021 01:14 PM
Eli Manning
| Credit: Al Bello/Getty

Almost the entirety of Eli Manning's first year of retirement has been amid a pandemic, making it an even bigger adjustment than he anticipated.

"I feel great," he reflects to PEOPLE after the official one-year mark of his decision to retire after 16 seasons with the New York Giants. "It's been obviously an interesting year, your first year out of football and not having that in your life for the first time as long as I can remember."

He continues, "I guess I started playing tackle football in eighth grade when I was 13 or 14 years old. So 27 years later not going to practice, not being in a locker room. It took some adjustment."

What's Manning, 40, been doing instead? Spending time as teacher for his four kids: Ava, 9, Lucy, 7, Caroline, 6, and Charlie, 23 months.

"My daughter was in third grade at the [start of the pandemic] and doing some of her math homework where I said, 'You know what? I think I am going to go back and play football this year,' " he jokes.

"I said, 'Maybe I need to go back and be on a team. If this is what I have to look forward to, a substitute teacher and their remote learning, I would rather go get hit by a 300-pound man than do this,' " he adds. "It ended up being a lot of fun, and the family time and getting to watch the Giants from afar."

Eli Manning at his retirement
| Credit: Adam Hunger/AP/Shutterstock

The athlete says he also developed some "new hobbies" and has taken on the role of coach for three basketball leagues for all three of his daughters.

Now, as the Super Bowl approaches, he's also looking back on some of his past victories — namely, when the Giants defeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the championship in 2008 and 2012.

Manning says despite those victories, though, six-time Super Bowl champion Brady has "got all the bragging rights."

"If I said anything trying to throw him under the bus, all you have to do is pull out six rings and some MVPs, and the fact that he's still playing at 43 and I had to retire at 39," says Manning.

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As for this weekend's game, Manning says, "I think it's a great storyline with Tom and what he's been able to accomplish this year and after ... changing teams, and getting the same results and getting back to a Super Bowl is pretty impressive," says Manning. "But I think that the Chiefs been the best team all year long and Travis Kelsey could be the MVP of the league. He's that dominant. But so can Mahomes and so can Tyreek Hill. They can all be in MVPs."

"I think both quarterbacks just have that magic where no matter the circumstances, they'll will their team into being a close game and it could just be a matter who has the ball last that that wins this game," he tells PEOPLE.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs are facing off at Super Bowl LV on Sunday in Tampa. The game will air on CBS at 6:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 7.