California waiting

By George Somerville

George continues his journey back in time to recall some more unforgettable moments in NFL Draft history. 

With the third pick of the 2004 Draft, the San Diego Chargers select, Eli Manning Quarterback, the University of Mississippi.

NEW YORK - APRIL 24: Eli Manning holding up a San Diego Chargers jersey was selected first pick overall by the Chargers then traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and 3 draft picks during the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Many people including me love the City of San Diego. Sunshine, all year round temperate climate, beaches, some of the best golf courses in the world and an amazing nightlife scene. What’s not to love about San Diego?

Well everything, if you’re the #1 pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Eli Manning.

NFL Royalty

As we know the Manning family are NFL royalty. Dad, Archie being a New Orleans Saint legend and big Bro, Peyton a soon to be Hall of Famer with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. 

Youngest sibling Eli had just completed a stellar senior college career year with a starring role at his Dad’s Alma Mater, Ole Miss. Manning Jnr’s performances had put the Ole Miss Rebels back in the national spotlight again.

hotty toddy

Eli had taken his Ole Miss Rebels to within a whisker of the National Championships and entered the 2004 Draft with a sky high draft stock.

QB talent was deep in 2004 with Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman all taken in the first round. Given that Manning and Roethlisberger have won two Superbowl’s apiece, this class is compared favourably with the 1983 QB class of Elway, Kelly and Marino. 


In 2004 the Chargers organisation was a mess, with GM AJ Smith and Head Coach Marty Schoittenheimer openly at war with each other.

It was no secret that the Chargers were in pursuit of a quarterback and with the first pick were almost certainly focused in on Manning.

Uncomfortable at the situation his son was likely to be landing in, Archie Manning had dinner with Smith and Schottenhiemer keen to understand the pair’s strategy for his talented son. 

By all accounts the dinner was a disaster with GM and Head Coach unable to paper over the cracks, even for the duration of the meal. The evening ended with Manning Senior telling the pair that his son would not be playing his football on the West Coast.

The Chargers called the Manning’s bluff and selected Eli at #1 overall. This gave us the now legendary awkward photograph of Eli holding a Chargers jersey immediately after the pick. However, knowing that the Bolts could pick him, Eli Manning was fully prepared to hold out on playing for the Bolts.

Many theories exist for Eli’s reluctance to play his football in Southern California. Almost certainly the Charger’s front office and coaching team had a significant influence on his decision. While many believe Archie Manning had the final say, Manning Snr has always denied this. However, Archie did hold a conversation with Ryan Leaf’s father who confirmed his son received little support from the Chargers organisation’ when dealing with his troubles.This appeared to justify the Manning’s decision.

A Cunning Plan

Despite the chaos within the organisation, the Chargers had a plan B.

NC State’s Phillip Rivers had performed very successfully at the Senior Bowl which was coached by the Chargers backroom staff. Rivers had caught the eye of Head Coach Schottenheimer in Mobile and had risen up their board as a result. Rivers had now become plan B.

The Chargers gambled on selecting Manning. By doing so, they ran the risk that their number #1 pick could have decided to sit for an entire season if no trade could be secured. 

However, Eli did not have to wait long as the Giants selected Philip Rivers with the #4 pick. This set up what is considered to be the greatest draft trade of all time.

At the point that the Giants were due to announce Rivers as their pick, Giants GM Ernie Accorsi received a call from the Chargers to seek a trade for Rivers.

Agreement was made and Eli would become a NY Giant. In return the Giants gave up Rivers along with a 2004 3rd round pick plus 2 2005 picks.

All's well that ends well

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05: Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants poses with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Giants defeated the Patriots by a score of 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

This story did have a happy ending with Manning and the Giants wining two Superbowls.

Philip Rivers had a long and successful 16 years with the Chargers mostly in San Diego and eventually in Los Angeles.

Roethlisberger was widely expected to be picked as the second QB in the draft. However he had to watch the Manning/Rivers story unfold in front of him. This meant an uncomfortable wait until the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ben with pick #11. As we now know Big Ben would also go on to win two Superbowl’s with the Steelers.

2004 NFL Draft fun fact

Fun fact : One player the San Diego Chargers did pick up eventually, was the undrafted Wes Welker. While Welker would ultimately be released by the Chargers one game into the 2004 season, Welker went on to have a very successful NFL career, most noticeably with the New England Patriots.

Photo credit:Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.

george somerville

College football writer