- Aug 18, 2005
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli does San Diego. "Everything I've heard about it, it's wonderful, it's beautiful, the people are great," Eli Manning was saying.
This is the man who advised the Chargers at the time of the NFL's 2004 draft that if they were to choose him, he would not represent them. Now the quarterback of the New York Giants is preparing to come to the city he spurned for a Sunday evening game against the Chargers.
He is aware he is not going to be received kindly.
"We just have to go in there prepared for San Diego's defense," he said. "You don't prepare for how you're going to get treated. I'm going to get booed. That's fine. San Diego is a good team; I've got to get a game plan for them."
The junior of the quarterbacking Mannings offered these remarks on a recent Monday at Giants Stadium. He said he does not dread coming to Qualcomm Stadium. When he chose to try to distance himself from the Chargers – and he contends this decision was wholly his and not influenced by members of his family – he said he was being mindful only of his football future.
"I wasn't thinking about where I was going to live," he said. "I was thinking about what I'm going to do for my occupation, where I'm going to work and hopefully have a long career. I didn't think San Diego was the place."
But why? Manning never has detailed what persuaded him to visit this slight upon San Diego and he did not in this interview. He was asked if the Chargers' 4-12 record that led to their having the top pick in 2004 had a bearing on his stance. He said it had not.
As matters worked out, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith did pick Manning No. 1. One can remember how sheepish Manning appeared during the telecast of the procedure when somebody handed him a Chargers cap after the San Diego club had identified him.
CHRIS TROTMAN / Getty Images
Eli Manning sheepishly holds up a Chargers jersey after San Diego took him first overall in the 2004 NFL draft.
To his obvious relief, he did not have to hold it for long. Smith, aware of Ernie Accorsi's keen interest in the former Ole Miss athlete, was running a gambit, his thinking being that the Giants general manager would deal for Manning, which Accorsi did about 45 minutes after Manning was selected. In the transaction, New York obtained the rights to Manning and the Chargers gained the Giants' No. 4 selection in the 2004 draft plus their first-round choice in 2005. The Chargers used the 2005 pick to take Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Smith, bombarded with interview requests relative to the Manning matter, has chosen to grant none of them. He did release this statement yesterday:
"Eli was one of the four players we were considering as the first pick in the draft. Eli, his family and (agent) Tom Condon of IMG felt that the Chargers were not a good fit for Eli's future. The rest is history. We wish him well in his NFL career."
In his statement, Smith relates the events associated with Eli's presence in New Jersey not merely to the quarterback but to his family. On this point, Eli demurs.
"It wasn't the Manning family acting; it was my decision," he declared. "My father came out and spoke for me. He was asked questions about it; he got brought into it. San Diego wanted him to come out and visit, to talk to him after we made our decision. It was my decision and it was how I acted; it was my decision that I didn't want to go there. That was the case."
He was asked if he were trying to take his father, Archie, off the hook.
"No, I'm not taking my dad 'off the hook,' " he answered. "He was getting a lot of bad comments. It wasn't my dad; it wasn't my dad's idea; it was my idea. It was my decision to make, and my dad was just supporting me and backing me up, like a father should do. He was getting a lot of bad pub for doing nothing but backing up his son."
To Eli, his decision has profited both the Chargers and the Giants.
"I just had a strong feeling that I didn't want to go there (to San Diego)," he said. "I stayed with that. I felt strongly about it, and I made that decision."
In choosing to pursue an NFL future in New York, Eli placed himself in what is the NFL's most demanding environment for a young quarterback. "From a starting quarterback in New York, everybody expects immediate results," noted Gary Myers of the New York Daily News.
Additionally, Manning inevitably is going to be compared with older brother Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts. At the moment, these comparisons flatter Eli. His passer rating after the Giants' first two games, both victories: 76.3. Peyton's: 74.7.
When the Giants on Monday outscored the New Orleans Saints 27-10, Eli completed 13-of-24 passes for 165 yards with no interceptions. The previous day, Peyton was 13-for-28 for 122 yards with one interception during the Colts' 10-3 conquest of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But nobody pretends that in his second professional season and after just nine starts, Eli has attained anything like his brother's competence. After New York began the season with a 42-19 conquest of the Arizona Cardinals, Giants coach Tom Coughlin made reference to several "very poorly thrown balls" and concluded his remarks by emphasizing, "We have to have a better passing attack."
Though his side had scored 42 points, Eli had completed just 10 passes for 172 yards, with two interceptions. His failures could be excused. He missed a large portion of his team's preseason with a sprained elbow he suffered Aug. 20. After this, the Giants put him on a practice pitch count. He was permitted to throw no more than 70 passes during practice.
"I hadn't played a whole lot in the preseason, but I have to get better," Manning said after the victory over Arizona. "I have to get my feet set and have good mechanics when it comes to moving a little in the pocket and taking the time to find a good space where I can make an accurate throw. We need to be more consistent. We had people open. When you get people open, you've got to make those plays."
This is something about Eli that the Giants admire – his humility. His teammates do like him, according to Myers, which is an important factor for a quarterback.
"I've still got a lot to learn," Eli admitted. "I'm going to make mistakes when I see different looks every game. But I think every game I play, I'm going to learn something new and get better. It's just a matter of going out there and trying to get better and taking something from every game."
According to Coughlin, Manning must accept that the pace in games is considerably faster than it is in practice.
Manning's first season in New York was a troubled one. After a 5-2 beginning, the club had to accept a 6-10 finish. Manning was the quarterback for the final seven games after replacing Kurt Warner. The Giants won only one, the last game, which concluded with Manning making a decision that might have defined his growing maturity.
The Giants had a pass play called late in a game against Dallas when Manning audibled to a running play. Tiki Barber took it 3 yards to the touchdown that not only felled the Cowboys 28-24, but made Barber both the NFC rushing champion and the Giants' all-time leading rusher. Importantly for Manning, the play spared him from having to address through the offseason why he had not been a winner.
He had replaced Warner when a New York team diminished by injuries was entering a phase of its season when it would have successive games against Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, all with strong defenses.
"The week before they had played in Arizona," Myers said. "I think they would have been wise to have begun starting him before 20,000 in Arizona rather than against Atlanta here."
Manning's most trying experience was the one against the Ravens. Myers can't recall having seen a quarterback have a poorer game. A 4-for-18 passer, Manning finished with a zero passer rating.
"But I think he's going to be real good," Myers judged. "I don't know if he is as dedicated to studying film as his brother, but he is really studious and he really cares. The mental aspect for him here is not easy; it's taking what he knows and translating it to what happens on the field."
Said another longtime New York-area football writer, Vinny Ditrani of The Record in Bergen County, N.J.: "I think he'll be good. He's pretty poised, he doesn't get excited, he has a good arm and he's a very quick study. But there's a little something missing there. His ceiling is very good, not great."