Alternate Universe: Eli Manning Sure Glad Chargers Never Traded Him After ’04 Draft
As Chargers QB Eli Manning enters his tenth season in the NFL, the three-time Pro-Bowler recently looked back on the fateful 2004 draft that landed him with the San Diego franchise with whom he has become synonymous.
“That was a crazy day back then,” recalled Manning, 32. “San Diego had the first pick of the draft, while the Giants had the fourth, and both teams were looking for a QB. My Dad (former New Orleans Saint Archie Manning) actually wanted to demand that San Diego trade me to the Giants, so that I could play for a larger market team. Well, I shot that idea down real fast. I said, ‘Look Dad, I’ll be thrilled and honored to play for ANY team that selects me. I’m not picky.’”
The Chargers chose Manning, while the Giants opted for North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers. Rivers became New York’s starter almost immediately, while Manning sat on the bench for two seasons before eventually replacing Drew Brees.
“I’ve been the starter in San Diego for seven years now, and I couldn’t be happier,” said Manning. “Some people ask if I’m jealous of the fact that my older brother Peyton went to two Super Bowls with the Colts, while I haven’t been to any. And the answer is, no, not at all. I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Manning while working out at the Chargers’ training complex. “He holds all kinds of records, and he has that Super Bowl ring. I still hope I can get the Chargers to that level one of these days.”
Despite multiple playoff appearances, San Diego has been unable to advance past the AFC Conference Championship game with the younger Manning at the helm. Meanwhile the Giants, due mostly to power defense and a stout running game, have appeared in two Super Bowls with Rivers, losing both times to the New England Patriots.
“Those games with the Pats were pretty classic. It’s a shame we couldn’t pull out victories,” said Rivers. “I remember back in ’08, when we were driving for what would have been a go-ahead TD to spoil their perfect season. I was just about to launch a deep pass to some little-known player. David Something. But unfortunately, the Pats blitz got to me, and I just couldn’t slip out of the sack. Maybe if I had somehow squirted free, I could have thrown up a desperation pass. Who knows what might have happened?”
“Then of course there was that ’12 loss to the Pats. Again, we had the chance to drive for the victory, but my receivers just couldn’t get open. I mean sure, that was this one sideline route Mario Manningham ran that I could have tried to hit for a big play, but he was covered pretty tightly. Maybe a different QB could have threaded that needle. But I wasn’t about to take that chance.”
Despite his lack of Super Bowl appearances, Manning remains thrilled that things worked out the way they did.
“Thank goodness I didn’t let my Dad go ahead with his plan,” he said as he grabbed his surfboard and headed out to ride the waves at La Jolla Shores. “Forcing a trade just isn’t the Manning style, you know? Besides, I could never picture myself in the hustle and bustle of New York. I’m a small-town boy at heart, so I’m happy to live in a laid back, easygoing town like San Diego. You can consider me a Charger for life.”