Eli Manning still has never said why he didn’t want to play for the Chargers, a warning that set in motion the monumental trade that landed him with the Giants in 2004.
By all accounts, 15 years later, the deal has worked out well for everyone involved.
But some seem to take more joy in it than others — even if one side has won two Super Bowls since and the other zero.
“[The trade] was the most satisfying moment for me in my career and I really mean that,” former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith told SB Nation. “I would say that if I was ever fortunate to win a Super Bowl, I’m sure it would’ve trumped that, but I don’t know that. I gotta tell you there was a lot of highs and lows in the business, but that moment was the greatest high for me as an executive for an organization.”
The Chargers drafted Manning with the No. 1-overall pick in 2004 before flipping him to the Giants for Philip Rivers (the No. 4-overall pick), a 2004 third-round pick, and first- and third-round picks in 2005. The deal came together while the Giants were on the clock with the fourth pick.
Smith, meanwhile, may have had a personal ax to grind in letting Manning’s agent and father — who he believes worked together to orchestrate the demand for the Chargers not to draft Manning — sweat it out.
“When I heard emphatically from [agent] Tom Condon and Archie Manning, ‘Don’t take us,’ that hit me — call me a traditionalist — it hit me the wrong way,” Smith told SB Nation. “I decided I was not going to play this game with them and I flipped it, in my view, to an unknown where they didn’t know what I’m going to do or how this is going to unfold — they really didn’t.”
Smith told the website he did some research about the trade demand and came to the conclusion that it stemmed from Condon being manipulative as a “super agent” and Archie Manning pulling the strings as well.
“Then there’s Archie Manning, who I really enjoy listening to constantly talk about how he’s out of the fray, not involved, and just lets his kids do their thing,” Smith said. “All fathers want to take care of their families — we all do that. And then he portrays an image, that as far as I’m concerned, is as false as can be, but that’s besides the point.”
Archie Manning has denied his involvement in the past.
“It was a decision that Eli and Tom Condon made,” he told the “Rich Eisen Show” in 2016. “Most people thought I orchestrated it, which I didn’t. I don’t tell my kids what to do, or make decisions for them.”
Smith believes the whole lead-up to the trade — power struggle included — worked exactly as he planned. He said he purposely told someone within his organization of his secret plan to call the Giants with seven and a half minutes left on the clock during the fourth pick to let them come up with a deal — knowing the person would leak it to the Giants, allowing them to prepare.
Ernie Accorsi, then the Giants’ general manager, has confirmed the timing of the call, but said the source was not his friend Marty Schottenheimer, then the coach of the Chargers.
“It came together so fast. So fast. It was almost comical,” Smith said. “It was very much to my liking, and for fun I also threw out Osi [Umenyiora’s] name again for Ernie, and he [outburst] and I laughed to break the ice because it was a dealbreaker. I said, ‘I’m just kidding Ernie, now how much time do we have? Minutes?’ and boom, there it was.”