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Eli Manning recounts his NFL Draft Day experience

Eli Manning, a quarterback from Mississippi, holds a

Eli Manning, a quarterback from Mississippi, holds a San Diego Chargers jersey after they selected him No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. (April 24, 2004) Credit: AP

Neither of the two biggest names in this year's NFL draft -- quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota -- will be attending the festivities in Chicago in person. They'll miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk across the stage, slam a hat down on their head, hold up a jersey, bro-hug the Commish, and smile for the cameras.

Then again, not everyone who attends the draft gets that kind of warm, fuzzy experience. Even if they do happen to be selected first overall.

It was 11 years ago when Eli Manning was in that position, drafted not by the Giants but by the Chargers -- the team for which he made it clear he would not be playing. Manning had to walk on stage and awkwardly pretend to smile and be happy while holding up that navy blue jersey, gritting his teeth in frustration. His once-in-a-lifetime moment was one of confusion and disappointment, and every time he looks at those photographs he's likely reminded how what should have been the happiest moment of his football career to that point was imperfect.

It's like having a blurry wedding portrait.

"I guess it was maybe a little bit more stressful than the average draft just because of some of the circumstances," Manning said on Sunday at the March of Dimes March for Babies in New York City. "The days leading up to it were stressful ... There was a little 40-minute stretch after being drafted that was a little confusing, but I got traded to the Giants and was able to stay right here [in New York City] and go out to Giants Stadium at the time and see the crowds and meet the Tisch family, the Mara family, Coach [Tom] Coughlin and everybody and had a great time with my family and friends in New York City for a couple of days."

In other words, the ruination was momentary. The Giants traded three draft picks (including their No. 1 pick in 2005) along with Philip Rivers, the quarterback they drafted but didn't want, for Manning. The rest is history.

"I don't have any regrets about how it all worked out," Manning said. "I thought draft day ended up being very happy."


As for Winston and Mariota, Manning has spent time with each of them at the annual Manning Passing Academy.

"I've seen them work, seen them throw," Manning said. "Hung out with them casually. Both are a lot of fun to be around and both are really good football players ... Both of them are fun to watch."

And he had some advice for them as they prepare for their once-in-a-lifetime moments when their names are called out and they learn where they'll be starting their NFL careers - even if they are not there in person to experience it.

"Enjoy the opportunity," Manning said. "Enjoy the situation whether you are 1 or 2 or you slip down to 6 or whatever happens. Hey, you're going to start a new career and it's an exciting time. It's different from a lot of other opportunities because you don't really have a choice of where you're going or what's going to happen. One day all of a sudden you are a quarterback for a franchise and you don't know which one it's going to be or where you're going to be living or what's going on. Enjoy it with your family and friends, but once you get drafted take those two days to have fun and get to work and see how quickly you can run an offense."

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