Over 17 years ago, Eli Manning was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the first-overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Before the opening day was done, Manning forced the Chargers’ hand by deciding he would not play for the team that drafted him and was subsequently traded to the Giants for Philip Rivers and three draft picks.
The rest is obviously history.
However, despite that day having been so long ago, we still hadn’t really received a straight-forward answer direct from the horse’s mouth ... until now.
On a recent episode of Kyle Brandt’s 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt podcast, the Good Morning Football host was joined by Manning and, of course, they couldn’t avoid one of the most-infamous moments in NFL draft history.
“I was just worried about the Chargers organization at the time,” Manning admitted to Brandt. “I felt it was the right decision, and I had a little pull, I kind of quietly tried to do it, say, ‘Hey, please don’t draft me. It can be our little secret.’”
Of course, the Chargers didn’t keep their end of the bargain and went on to select Manning anyway. Manning was later traded to the Giants in return for their first overall pick, Philip Rivers, and the rest is history.
Leading up to the draft, everyone knew there was a chance that Eli could sit out the entire 2004 season if he ended up in San Diego. Most people believed the move was spurred on by his agent or his father, but Manning admitted the whole ordeal stemmed from him and his father just wanted to “take some heat” off of his 23-year-old son despite not being a big fan of the idea in the first place.
Manning went on to say that the Chargers seemed to turn their team around in the coming years behind the play of guys like Drew Brees, Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shawne Merriman — so things still worked out in San Diego anyway.
My favorite part of the whole interview was after Brandt asked Manning if he has ever thought about what his career would have looked like if he played for San Diego. Manning admits he hasn’t because he told himself in the moment he “wasn’t going to look back” but he did recall some of what the Chargers said in order to persuade him to play, including an attempt to try and sell a former college basketball player as his tight end.
“I mean, the whole Antonio Gates deal, I remember them talking to me about him, they’re like, ‘Hey, we got this great tight end. We think he’s going to be a superstar. He’s never played football. He’s played basketball, but he’s going to be a great tight end. Trust us.’”
To no one’s surprise, Manning’s response was, “Yeah, right. Yeah. That happens all the time.”
So, I get it. Manning was a superstar coming out of Ole Miss and he wanted to have a decent setup wherever he ended up going in the draft. Unfortunately, he truly thought the Chargers were in a bad enough place following the 2003 season that even he likely wouldn’t have been able to turn it around.
You can’t fault a guy for doing what he felt was best for his future, and look how it all turned out. Two Super Bowl rings ain’t too shabby.