Eli Manning, who probably can recall every coverage he's ever faced and break down every on-field check he's had to make, says he forgets what was perhaps the most important decision of his life.
Coming out of the University of Mississippi in the 2004 draft, it was clear that Manning had no desire whatsoever to play for the Chargers, who held the top pick. Luckily for him, his need to avoid San Diego was matched only by the Giants' longing to acquire him, and a trade was worked out in which the teams swapped quarterbacks; the Giants received Manning and the Chargers got Philip Rivers, whom the Giants took with the No. 4 overall pick.
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What's never been said publicly is why Manning was so set against playing for the Chargers. There has been plenty of speculation, from concerns about the coach to the general manager to the team's ownership, but no Manning has ever given an on-the-record reason.
Perhaps they never will.
"I forget,'' Manning said Wednesday with a big smile while being peppered to unveil the root of his Charger aversion just days before the Giants head to San Diego for Sunday's game. "I just can't remember. It's been 10 years. It slipped my mind.''
Whatever the reasons, machinations and behind-closed-door negotiations that took place that April day, it's certainly worked out well for the Giants. Sure, they seem headed toward missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years -- five of Manning's prime years -- but he also has won two Super Bowls. The Chargers? They're still looking for their first.
Asked if he had any qualms that the Giants and then-general manager Ernie Accorsi made the right decision that day, Tom Coughlin said, "There's a couple of things out in the hallway you might want to take a look at.'' He was directing doubters to the Lombardi Trophies that adorn the lobby of the team's facility.
Rivers said Wednesday that even though he was selected by the Giants, he figured he wasn't going to play for them.
"I honestly believe had the trade not been close to going down or already the plan, I don't think the Giants would have drafted me,'' Rivers said. "I never spoke to any member of the Giants' organization on draft day.''
The trade wasn't always a done deal, though. Manning was selected by the Chargers. He had to go on stage at Madison Square Garden and force a smile while holding up that dark blue Chargers jersey. He also did interviews with television networks and San Diego media, all of whom knew of Manning's unhappiness with being selected.
"It wasn't an ideal situation,'' he said. "I was prepared to go through it and play it out. Fortunately, it was only about 40 minutes, 45 minutes that I had to deal with it and I was traded to the Giants.''
Which required another set of interviews.
"I know I had more smiles the second round,'' he said.
It was noted that while Manning held the Chargers jersey aloft, he never put on the traditional baseball cap many players wear onstage at the draft. Was that some kind of Bolt revolt, a signal of his frustration?
"My hair was feeling good that day, I didn't want to mess it up,'' he said with another big smile.
That, he remembers.