When Eli Manning returned to his posh New York City hotel room
late last Saturday afternoon, he was still hungry for NFL draft
talk. This was fairly remarkable considering the Mississippi
quarterback had just completed one of the wildest rides in draft
history--declaring in the run-up to selection day that he
wouldn't play for the San Diego Chargers if they took him with
the No. 1 pick, hearing them select him anyway, getting booed
mercilessly by the draftniks at the Theater at Madison Square
Garden and then anxiously going through the motions until the
Chargers traded him to the New York Giants an hour later. Yet he
still wanted to catch up on the rest of the first day's
selections before meeting his family for dinner. So he sat on the
edge of his bed and turned on the television just in time to see
the Giants make guard Chris Snee of Boston College their second-
This is an article from the May 3, 2004 issue
"I admit I got a little worried at times, but I'm glad things
worked out quickly," said a relaxed Manning. "I didn't want to
sit out a season. I wanted to play." It's uncertain how quickly
Manning will get that chance--the Giants, who finished 4-12 in
2003, still must figure out what to do with Kerry Collins, 31,
their starter for the last five years--but what this draft flap
showed is that though Manning may look as fresh-faced as your
paperboy, he has a toughness that he'll need to play quarterback
in the Big Apple.
Manning's father, Archie, says Eli is "going into a hornet's
nest" for young passers, and the buzzing began almost immediately
after the Giants sent their choice with the No. 4 pick, North
Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, to San Diego along with
a third-rounder this year and their first-and fifth-round picks
in next year's draft. Critics crowed that the Giants gave up too
much to get Manning, but New York general manager Ernie Accorsi
called such talk laughable, declaring that he had landed a rare
talent for a team that averaged only 15.2 points a game last
In four seasons at Ole Miss, Manning completed 60.8% of his
passes, set 45 Rebels records and impressed scouts with his size
(6'4", 218 pounds), arm strength, athleticism and intangibles.
"He elevates the play of the people around him," Accorsi says.
"The majority of the teams Mississippi plays in the SEC have far
better talent, but Mississippi still won 10 games [last season].
He makes people better."
Expectations are high, but there is good reason to believe
Manning can live up to them. He has the genes, of course--Archie
played for 14 years in the NFL; brother Peyton was the league's
co-MVP last season with the Indianapolis Colts--and he'll be
working with Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel, who was
an Indianapolis assistant with Peyton in 2001. The Giants'
offense has big-play capability with running back Tiki Barber,
wide receiver Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey, but as
the drafting of Snee confirmed, they know they need help along
the offensive line. New York allowed 44 sacks last season.
There was no doubt among the 3,000 fans who attended a draft-day
party at Giants Stadium, where Manning made an appearance in the
middle of the afternoon. Standing on a stage in one end zone,
with fans chanting, "E-li! E-li! E-li!" he put on a blue Giants
jersey bearing his name and the number 10. The scene moved his
relatives and friends. "It felt good to see Eli and our whole
family happy," said Archie. "This situation took a toll on
Though Eli says he was prepared to deal with the backlash from
his decision to shun San Diego--"I knew I'd take a lot of heat
once that got out," he says--he couldn't have imagined how
venomous the situation would become.
A week and a half before the draft, Manning told his agent, Tom
Condon, to inform the Chargers that he wasn't interested in
playing for them. Manning wouldn't make his reasons public, but
he could not have been impressed with the club's personnel (shaky
offensive line, dearth of playmaking receivers and the league's
27th-ranked defense) and its long squabble with the city over the
Qualcomm Stadium lease and a proposed new stadium. Last November
the Chargers filed suit against the city, claiming they had met a
contractual requirement that enables them to renegotiate the
lease or relocate the franchise. "The stadium situation is
difficult there," said Condon. "They've threatened to move to Los
Angeles. It just didn't look like a great fit for Eli."
Still, Condon, who also represents San Diego coach Marty
Schottenheimer, didn't expect that Eli's request would explode in
the media. "San Diego had told me they had three players they
were comfortable with as their first pick," he said on Saturday,
"and they also said they were going to entertain trades. When I
told them about [Eli's decision], I thought we were eliminating
one of their three candidates and still leaving them with plenty
The Chargers thought otherwise. Schottenheimer, general manager
A.J. Smith and team president Dean Spanos all met with Archie in
hopes that he might persuade Eli to reconsider. When that didn't
work, Smith leaked word of Eli's decision to the media on the
Wednesday before the draft, claiming that Archie wanted his son
to play for the Giants. (Archie denies saying anything about an
interest in New York. Funny, though, how 17 days before the
draft, Eli filmed a TV spot for Reebok in which he's seen with a
Chargers cap in one hand and a Giants cap in the other.) When Eli
arrived in New York for several predraft appearances on Thursday,
he stirred the media further by saying that if San Diego picked
him, he would be willing to sit out the season and re-enter the
draft next year.
Manning tried to stay cool--he didn't watch television or read
newspapers, preferring to tour Manhattan with Peyton--but the
strain on him was evident on Saturday, when commissioner Paul
Tagliabue stepped to the podium at the Garden and announced that
the Chargers had indeed selected him. Right away the jeering
started. Manning forced a grin as he shook hands with Tagliabue,
and then he posed for photographers holding a San Diego jersey,
but he wouldn't don the Chargers cap. The crowd stayed on his
back as Manning walked through the audience to his press
conference. Outside the door to the interview room, a handful of
fans gathered to taunt him, one shouting, "Peyton is great, but
Eli is bush."
Eli later said the abuse hadn't bothered him, but it clearly
upset others in a family long known for its class and affability.
Archie had been upset with the criticism of his son from the
outset of the controversy, and the depth of the animosity toward
Eli baffled him. "I heard one person say Eli was a punk," Archie
said. "Well, he's not a punk. We're nice people, and we tried to
do the best we could in a tough situation."
On Saturday morning Archie, who was the No. 2 pick in the 1971
draft, had reminded Eli that being taken first was an honor no
matter the team, and that if his son remained patient,
"everything would work out for the best." Those words proved
prophetic later in the day.
According to a league source, the Giants called San Diego 10 days
before the draft in an attempt to move up and select Manning, but
the Chargers' initial demands turned them off: San Diego wanted
New York's first-, second-and third-round picks this year, plus a
first-round selection in 2005 and defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
The teams talked again on the night before the draft, and once
the Giants were on the clock, Smith and Accorsi kicked around
three or four offers. Ultimately, Smith accepted Accorsi's
proposal to give up Rivers plus the three draft picks.
Manning was overjoyed when told--by a kid in the crowd--about the
trade. Upon getting the news, he broke off an interview and raced
to a nearby television for more info. He paused briefly when his
mother, Olivia, asked if she should give away the Chargers jersey
in her hands. Eli told her to keep it.
Sitting in his hotel room hours later, he said his mother
probably had the uniform tucked away somewhere, adding, "It might
become a collector's item one day."
NOT A PUNK. We're nice people, and we tried to do the best we
could in a tough situation."