Dave Klein was the Giants' beat
writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books
and he is one of only four sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls.
Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.
ELI MANNING TO FACE CHARGERS IN NEXT "MUST WIN" GAME,
UP THE 2004 TRADE THAT GOT HIM TO GIANTS AND NOT S.D.
It was April 24, 2004,
as the Giants' new head coach, Tom Coughlin, was preparing for his first draft.
The 2003 Giants had finished with a
4-12 record, but sadly, so did three other teams. They were Oakland, San Diego
and Arizona, and in cases like that the NFL awards all ties in an inverse order
of the winning percentages of the teams they played.
it was decided that San Diego had compiled its 4-12 record against the worst-rated
opponents, that Oakland was second, Arizona third and the Giants fourth.
did not sit well with general manager Ernie Accorsi, who was experiencing a near-fatal
attraction condition over a quarterback from the University of Mississippi named
"You can tell about
the special ones," he said, having had previous experience with the likes
of Johnny Unitas. "You can just tell when one of the special ones walks into
a room," he said one spring afternoon at lunch in Manhattan. "Eli has
that look, that aura."
the Chargers felt the same way, and their general manager, A.J. Smith, told everyone
he could think of - even those who didn't ask.
Accorsi wanted him and had several telephone conversations with Mr. Smith, and
finally, on April 21, three days prior to the draft, an agreement was reached
(one not to be disclosed to the public until Draft Day).
Other teams were willing to deal with the Giants to move into the fourth spot,
including the Redskins, Steelers and Browns. It was suggested that the Giants
would engineer a trade with Pittsburgh for the 11th spot, allowing the Steelers
to draft whoever it was they wanted and "settle" for a quarterback named
But Accorsi held
But Smith was not about to pass
on the kid, because the next team was Oakland, a rival of San Diego's in the AFC
West, and as he told someone later that day: "There was no way in hell I
was going to stick around and watch him beat us twice every season."
Chargers' head coach at the time, one-time Giants' assistant Marty Schottenheimer,
was equally enamored with Philip Rivers of North Carolina State, and when contacted
by Smith (something the G.M. didn't do all that often) Marty suggested he could
be just as happy with Rivers.
So a deal
was struck. Accorsi and Smith side-stepped the ravenous Raiders and the Cardinals,
who didn't have that much interest in Manning or Rivers and settled instead for
one of the top two or three wide receivers in the game today, Larry Fitzgerald.
The Raiders, characteristically, spent
the second pick of the draft on a major disappointment, offensive tackle Robert
Gallery of Iowa. So the Chargers got their second choice plus a hell of a lot
more and the Giants, Accorsi and Coughlin got the kid they had ogled.
this brief history? Because for the third time in his career, Eli is preparing
to face the Chargers, while at the same time hoping to record his first victory
against them. He lost the first meeting, on Sept. 25, 2005, by the one-sided score
of 45-23, a game in which Rivers threw three touchdown passes.
fans were joyous with the victory. After all, Eli had spurned them to go to "the
big city," even though it was New Jersey, and they were offended and insulted.
The next time the teams met was slightly more than four years later, on Nov. 11,
2009, and again San Diego and Rivers won it, 21-20, on a last-minute touchdown
But the truth of the matter is
that Archie Manning, whose DNA has produced not only Eli but his older brother,
Peyton, was the one who didn't want his young son from playing in San Diego. He
didn't like the way the team was being run, he didn't have much in terms of professional
respect for Smith and he was against watching his kid suffer through years and
years of non-winning seasons.
good son, Eli paid attention. He also took Peyton's advice, which was the same
as Archie's, and said for public consumption that he would not play for the Chargers
if drafted by them.
So Smith was forced
to agree to terms, although he struck as hard a deal as he could. In exchange
for Eli, he instructed the Giants to draft Rivers with their fourth pick and then
add their third-round selection that year, their first and fifth-round picks the
They got Rivers and
a good placekicker named Nate Kaeding, who was released and then retired in 2012;
the Giants' first-round pick in 2005, which turned out to be defensive end-linebacker
Shawne Merriman; and their fifth-round pick, which they traded to Tampa Bay for
former Giant offensive tackle Roman Oben, previously drafted in the third round
in 1996. Oben, who currently works on the Giants' post-game broadcasting crew,
hold the distinction of being the first and only NFL player born in Cameroon.
And all the Giants got was Manning.
last bit of research conducted shows that of all the players involved, the only
Super Bowl rings belong to Eli, and yet this should not be interpreted as a paean
to Accorsi. Of course he made the trade, and he handed the Chargers considerable
additional weaponry to use that year and the next, but Smith managed to make poor
selections on a rather consistent basis and, as a result, those indignant San
Diego fans might like to take a long, hard look at the trade and then wish it
has never happened.
Jerry Magee, one
of the icons of California sportswriters, once observed that the trade was a terrible
move by Smith, who has since left football. "It wasn't smart," he said,
"and people who like Rivers should do so, because he is a lot to like, but
Manning is a unique quarterback and I think the courage he showed that first time
he played in San Diego marked him as special. He stood up and took all the abuse
and didn't let it bother him."
the two games the teams have played, Eli has completed 49 of 74 passes for 567
yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
He has never spoken about the machinations and mysteries that swirled around the
team teams, nor has he ever admitted that his father, Archie, was the driving
force behind the trade. But his agent, Tom Condon, has admitted that Archie was
"adamant" that Eli was not going to play for the Chargers. He also indicated
that neither Oakland nor Arizona held any attraction.
one of the NFL's most respected player agents, also represents quarterbacks Alex
Smith, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Tony Romo.
When asked about this upcoming game
(4:35 p.m. Sunday, FOX Sports), Manning would only reply in broad strokes, just
like his head coach. "It's a big game for us because it's the next game on
the schedule and this means each one counts. We missed too many opportunities
earlier this season, so every game now is like an entire season for us."
Sure, but somewhere inside, he must
have that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with "escaping" a bad situation
and coming away with a pair of Super Bowl rings, you know?
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