After four years of football at Ole Miss, highlighted by the 2003 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and a 2004 Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State, Eli Manning was the clear number one pick in the 2004 NFL draft.
The San Diego Chargers rightfully should have been able to draft Manning, as they had the first draft pick following a 4-12 losing season. Manning, however, revealed to the Chargers and the media his intentions to hold out from signing if drafted by San Diego. On NFL draft day, Manning stepped onto the stage to a chorus of jeers from the Madison Square Garden crowd as he lifted up his Chargers jersey. The New York Giants front office was stunned because they had expected San Diego to pass on Manning. Instead, the Giants drafted quarterback Philip Rivers of North Carolina State, three draws later.
In less than an hour, the two teams agreed to a trade: San Diego would send Manning to New York, and the Chargers would receive Rivers and three additional draft picks. With two of these three selections, San Diego acquired future Pro Bowlers Nate Kaeding and Shawne Merriman. It was a bold trade for the Giants, trusting that Manning’s performance would top those of Philip Rivers and the three other potential young stars promised by the three draft picks.
Even after the Giants shocked Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots with a thrilling Super Bowl win in 2007, critics still maintained their opinion that New York was the losing party in the risky deal. Some compared Manning’s inconsistency with Rivers’ immediate success as a starter, having led the Chargers to the AFC Championship game in only his second full season, while Manning took four to do the same.
In 2010, Rivers continued to put up Hall-of-Fame-caliber numbers, leading the league in yards, yards per attempt and yards per game, while Manning threw a league-worst 25 interceptions.
However, one season later, the Giants are again league champs, with two time Super Bowl MVP Manning at the helm. And as for San Diego? The Chargers finished the 2011-12 season, which had started with Super Bowl predictions, at a disappointing 8 – 8, with Rivers throwing a career-high 20 interceptions, Kaeding on the Injured Reserve, and Merriman traded to the Buffalo Bills.
In the NFL, every franchise’s ultimate goal is to call the Lombardi Trophy its own. On February 5, 2012, Eli Manning and the New York Giants increased their Super Bowl ring lead over Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers to 2 – 0. Until Rivers brings the Lombardi Trophy to San Diego, I believe that the New York Giants received the winning end of the Manning-Rivers deal.