(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Ernie Accorsi segment on Ben Roethlisberger, fast-forward to 31:20 of the following attachment: https://www.spreaker.com/user/fullpresscoverage/eyetest-ep46)
What would’ve happened if the New York Giants had wound up with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger instead of Eli Manning in the 2004 NFL draft? Don’t laugh. It could’ve happened.
In fact, it almost did.
That’s according to Ernie Accorsi, and he should know. He was the Giants general manager who came within minutes – yes, minutes -- of choosing Roethlisberger on April 24, 2004, before consummating a deal with San Diego that sent Manning to the Giants and Philip Rivers to the Bolts.
Like almost everyone, the Giants coveted Manning, who starred at the University of Mississippi and was regarded as the top pick. But they didn’t have the first draft choice. The Chargers did. And so the Giants, who picked fourth, had to wait their turn.
“I always say this about the draft,” Accorsi said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com. “My sleepless nights were not because I didn’t have confidence in our personnel people or myself. My sleepless nights were about the things you cannot control. Now, you’re at the fourth position, you’re in pretty good position and we had almost as strong a conviction about Roethlisberger as we did Eli.”
One problem: Oakland, which drafted second, and Arizona, which had the third pick, were between Accorsi and Roethlisberger, and he wasn’t convinced that something wouldn’t happen to disrupt his plans.
And something did. The Chargers called after making Manning the first pick of the draft.
The move came after Manning, his family and agent Tom Condon spent weeks prior to the draft warning the team not to choose him, with Manning saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. They believed the organization was dysfunctional and that Manning wouldn’t thrive there. So they squeezed the Bolts, hoping they would listen and do what Baltimore owner Robert Irsay had 11 years earlier with No. 1 pick John Elway and trade Manning.
The Chargers did.
They sent him to the Giants in exchange for Rivers and three draft choices -- but not before Accorsi came this close to making Roethlisberger his next quarterback. But don’t take it from me. Let Accorsi explain what happened in the moments following San Diego’s choice of Manning.
“I still had to worry about Oakland, which ended up picking (offensive lineman Robert) Gallery from Iowa, and Arizona (the Cards took wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald),” Accorsi said. “It didn’t look like I was going to make that trade (the Manning deal) because I didn’t make it until seven minutes into my time allotment. But leading up to that point, I was holding my breath on Roethlisberger, and we had written Roethlisberger’s name down on the card – ready to hand it in immediately.
“And that was what I was worried about. That’s the thing about the draft that drives you crazy. Just like I said about Oakland trading over us, the things you can’t control are what keep you up at night.”
Roethlisberger lasted until the 11th pick when Pittsburgh chose him, and the rest you know. He won two Super Bowls. Manning won two Super Bowls. And Rivers broke nearly every passing record in Chargers’ history. Seventeen quarterbacks were taken in the 2004 draft, and Roethlisberger, Manning and Rivers were by far the most successful – with all having lengthy careers that will make them Hall-of-Fame finalists when eligible for election.