It's been ten years, San Diego. You have to learn to let things go.
Quarterback Eli Manning did not want to play for the San Diego Chargers as he was prepping for the 2004 NFL Draft. He has never given a concrete reason for those feelings. Perhaps it had something to do with older brother Peyton Manning then being a franchise quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and the desires of both siblings to one day face off in a Super Bowl. Maybe Eli was merely the recipient of advice from his father, Archie.
Odds are that we may never know all that went down before that particular draft.
What happened on that historic draft day has been documented more times than I am willing to count. The Chargers took Manning, the Giants selected Philip Rivers, and New York then dealt Rivers, a 2004 third-round pick and a 2005 first-round pick to San Diego for Manning.
The younger of the two Manning quarterbacks isn't yet ready to give his side of the story. “"I just can't remember it,” he told reporters when asked about the events that ultimately resulted in his becoming a member of the New York Giants. “"It's been ten years. It slipped my mind.”
Manning realizes, as he and the Giants prepare to face off with the Chargers in San Diego, that those making up the home crowd this coming Sunday haven't forgotten. Manning was the recipient of plenty of verbal abuse back in 2005 when he played in San Diego, and he is expecting more of the same this time around. “I'm sure they'll bring it up [again],” Manning stated. “I'm sure they'll do something to kind of get the fans fired up. We'll see what happens.”
The great irony about fans of the Chargers being so emotionally charged by Manning coming to town is that all indications, as of Christmas 2007, were that San Diego was the undisputed winner of that trade. Rivers was emerging as a true franchise quarterback, while Manning was struggling to keep his side afloat and above .500.
And what of those two picks given to San Diego? The Chargers only used them to acquire standouts Nick Kaeding and Shawne Merriman.
Then came that magical New York playoff run, and the tide began to change. Manning excelled in the playoffs, and he was responsible for the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl victory that ruined the hopes of a perfect 19-0 season held by the New England Patriots. Salt had been rubbed deep in the wound felt by San Diego football fans everywhere; except not really.
Manning and the Giants lost their next playoff game the following January. They then failed to qualify for the league's postseason tournament the next two seasons. Rivers, meanwhile, was a Pro Bowl quarterback every year from 2009 through 2011. The Chargers had multiple playoff appearances during that stretch, but they just couldn't get past the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts.
Nobody can blame Manning for that.
The NFL is a results-based business, which is why the Giants officially became winners of the 2004 trade two postseasons ago. Manning again completed one of the greatest passes in Super Bowl history, again on a game-winning drive against the Patriots, and he hoisted his second Super Bowl MVP trophy in the process. Rivers, on the other hand, hasn't yet taken a single snap in the league championship game.
San Diego fans won't like to read it, but Manning has been vindicated by the hardware that currently resides in his residence. He even helped turn the Chargers into perennial contenders during a run in which that franchise didn't win even a conference title. Manning did all he could minus actually playing for San Diego.
He, instead, was twice part of a winner.