- Aug 18, 2005
SAN DIEGO ---- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is known for audibles. Few in the NFL are better.
Eli, his little brother, is recognized for opting out of something as well: playing for the Chargers.
The undefeated New York Giants tangle with the Chargers on Sunday night, but few are talking about Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber. Or the NFL's leading active sacker, Michael Strahan. Or even quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride, who went 6-16 during his brief stint as the Chargers' head coach.
It's all about one Elisha Nelson Manning.
"I'm sure I'll get booed,'' Manning said.
All because the former University of Mississippi star begged the Chargers not to draft him with the first overall pick in 2004.
The Chargers were removing the stench of a 4-12 season and about to christen five new offensive linemen. Apparently that scared Manning, although he won't say.
"I had nothing against San Diego or the people of San Diego when I made my decision,'' Manning said. "My decision was not based on where I'd be living. It was about being there and playing football there for possibly six or seven years with a contract, and it just didn't seem like the right fit for me.''
So now Manning snuggles alongside others San Diego sports fans love to jeer. Scoot over, Deion Sanders, Tom Lasorda, Barry Bonds or anyone in Raiders paraphernalia.
"I played at LSU's stadium a few times, and things were rowdy and fans were yelling things," Manning said. "In the SEC, the quarterback is gonna get harassed in those big stadiums. But I don't know if I've ever played in a place where a team had reason to dislike me.''
That goes from the locker room to the president's office.
"I didn't understand the reason why, and they could never give you a reason why. And it really didn't matter to me,'' Chargers president Dean Spanos said about the Manning family's reluctance for Eli to come to San Diego. "We were going to do whatever we wanted to do, anyway, and so we did and we drafted him.''
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment about Manning.
Manning was peddled to the Giants, for a package that eventually reaped quarterback Philip Rivers, kicker Nate Kaeding, left tackle Roman Oben and linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Although the bounty looks good, the Chargers can't wait to make Manning look bad.
"We're definitely motivated to beat them and to show him that we are a better team than he thought at the time of the draft,'' linebacker Ben Leber said. "And, more importantly, the fans are feeling crazy about it and we don't want to let them down.''
Manning would be insane to think otherwise.
"I'm sure they'll be loud when we have the ball,'' said Manning, who's 23-of-47 for 337 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. "That's something I've got to prepare for. My main concern is we are going up against a good San Diego team.''
It's a squad itching to bump into the win column and give Manning a few bruises to take east.
"For a guy who said he doesn't want to play for an organization, it was disrespectful to all of us,'' nose tackle Jamal Williams said. "'Not only to the Chargers, but the NFL. It was like, wow, there a lot of people who would love the opportunity to play for any team in the NFL. And to just say you don't want to play for them?
"I don't know if that's a person being spoiled or what? Hey, there are a million other people who want that opportunity.''
Manning said his father, Archie, wasn't behind the maneuvering. Others thought Archie didn't want his son in harm's way after the years punishment he absorbed playing for the woeful New Orleans Saints.
"That wasn't the situation,'' Eli said. "It wasn't him talking to me or any of his (doing) because of his experience with the Saints. He had nothing to do with it, so I'd like to clear that up.''
What was evident was Manning's displeasure when the Chargers selected him. He hoisted the Chargers' jersey as if it was radioactive and never did put on the Bolts cap.
"I didn't mind holding the Chargers jersey,'' Eli countered. "I still have a lot of fond memories of draft day, it was just a confusing time at the time.''
Now's the time Chargers boosters have waited for. And with the 5:30 p.m. kickoff, the gathering should be in high spirits.
"Maybe it makes the fans just a teeny bit louder to yell profanities,'' quarterback Drew Brees said. "I don't know.''
Oh, yes he does.