Sunday, December 16, 2007


Back in 2004, one of the last college radio shows I was a part of delved into the NFL Draft. It was after me and my friend (and co-host) spent the prior Saturday having our own breakdown of the event in our individual media centers (my dorm room and his crib off campus). The biggest hubbub, as usual, was about whom the San Diego Chargers would select as the top pick in the draft. With Drew Brees driving management nuts – for losing – bringing in a fresh face at quarterback became the number one priority. The Chargers possessed the league’s most dynamic young player in LaDainian Tomlinson, but were still lengths away from supplanting Kansas City and Denver in the AFC West. We discussed the rumors of San Diego taking Mississippi’s Eli Manning despite postulations against signing with them. We discussed where this leaves other quarterbacks and the possibility that the Chargers could trade the pick to a team willing to fork over multiple picks in the later rounds to collect defensive help.


Three days later on the show, we were debating if the Chargers made the right choice.

As you know, the Chargers selected Manning anyway, but worked out a deal with the New York Giants, who had their eyes on him all along. The Giants selected NC State’s Philip Rivers with the fourth pick and traded his rights along with the first and fifth round choices in the 2005 draft to San Diego for Manning.

We also wondered if the Giants made the right choice. Where Mario Williams and Reggie Bush differ in this case of revisionist sports history is that not only are they of two different positions against each other, but they aren’t asked to commandeer the team like quarterbacks are expected to. They also have twenty+ months under their belts as professionals, despite the immediate impact running backs and defensive linemen are expected to make. With Manning and Rivers, however, these young men were going to be handed the reins to talented, but inconsistent offenses. These young men play in positions where the learning curve is supposed to plateau during the fourth season.

What year is this again?

Since his junior season at Ole Miss, scouts and executives fawned over Peyton’s brother and Archie’s son. Because of his lineage, teams knew that he understood the dynamics of the pro game as the complex art and the unforgiving business. Because of his lineage, teams felt that he could blend his father’s grit and his brother’s passing prowess with his laid-back, ‘aw dang’ demeanor. Because there is no better topic about the NFL than debating who’s the next superstar quarterback, Eli is had automatically entered the contest because of his last name. So when Archie (on Eli’s behalf) told the San Diego Chargers to not draft his son as the number one pick in the 2004 Draft, Eli “lost cool points” with fans, media and insiders. The thought that the Chargers, whose draft notoriety included lengthy holdouts with first-rounders and choosing Ryan Leaf over big brother Peyton, would take its time in getting Eli into training camp. Of course, the result of the acrimony became the draft-day trade that made Manning a Giants and Rivers a Charger.

Rivers was a four-year starter at NC State who set new records for the Wolfpack – just like Williams did in his three years in Raleigh – as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. He started 51 games under center, including two Tangerine Bowls, the ’04 Senior Bowl and a 2002 Gator Bowl win over Notre Dame. As Manning, he didn’t have big-name receivers nor did he have a looming spotlight on him because of the prior losing history of the team. Rivers was noted for a certain moxie and accuracy that former Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said reminded him of Bernie Kosar, his quarterback in his Cleveland Browns stint back in the 1980s. Yet, he was considered to be the third-best QB prospect behind Manning and Ben Roethlisberger from Miami (Ohio) because of a perceived lack of arm strength and side-arm throwing style. When Manning made his demands, this forced San Diego to take a look at Rivers much more closely. Schottenheimer (figuratively) fell for Rivers when coaching him during the Senior Bowl, helping his standing improve. He became a Charger, but as Manning feared for himself, had a lengthy holdout that kept him from training camp. Again, Drew Brees drove management nuts – this time for being the last resort – by using Rivers’ absence as a chance to reclaim his career. With Brees taking that proverbial chip on his shoulder and winning games, this hindered Rivers’ development, even after coming to an agreement on a contract. Brees’ shoulder injury in 2005 and departure in the following offseason gave Rivers the chance to write his own story.

For the past two seasons, I have been the Giants reporter for the weekly paper, the New York Beacon*. In that time, I have been able to watch Eli Manning in person for every home game and keep abreast of his ‘progress’ on the road from the humble abode. I say ‘progress’ because there is not a more scrutinized player in the game right now than the guy that now-retired General Manager Ernie Accorsi traded two years of early round picks for. In many ways, this is just desserts; his hard-line stance against going to San Diego soured his relationship with people that weren’t even his fans yet. Even in on the college radio show, I felt that he may have been a bit unappreciative of being considered to play for an NFL team, let alone to have been the top pick of the league’s draft. He has also been maddeningly inconsistent. Some in the press think of him as a manager at the quarterback position rather than a playmaker in the mold of Roethlisberger or Dallas’ Tony Romo. Yet, in covering the team through a promising season turned sour last year and a somewhat bumpy ride to another postseason right now, I feel that Manning is the right player to be in that lockerroom. It’s not that he doesn’t have faults, but what he also doesn’t possess is a confrontational attitude that would tick anyone off. When New York collapsed last season, the last thing that the team needed was another angry voice. With the retiring Tiki Barber and Coach Tom Coughlin bickering, injuries on offense, and unhappy players like Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan, there needed to be someone who gave the appearance of focusing on the next opponent, regardless of what was happening. The ‘aw dang’ demeanor in a lockerroom well-stocked with strong personalities has been at least a decent tonic to their gin. As Giants fans roast Manning a new one with each passing day, there is this thought that because he’s not screaming, yelling and pushing that he is not a leader. His teammates stand with him and understand that he prefers to let his arm lead. He has become a little more defensive in dealing with the harsh media here in the New York area that loves to build on something negative. He has stood up for himself against his former teammate, Barber and no matter how good or bad it gets, has been doing his best to deal with millions of people who expect him to be someone he’s not.


As for Rivers, he hasn’t played the same amount of games as Manning. His experience seemingly rivals that of Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer. Sitting out for a season to learn the playbook was more forced circumstance than design, as in the case of Palmer. Yet, he has also been as maddeningly inconsistent as the younger Manning. Both quarterbacks had to catch up to the comfort level of extremely talented players around them. Both have had significant coaching changes to deal with in their four years. With Rivers replacing Brees, though, you figured that he would be even more ready to lead the offense than Palmer was after succeeding Jon Kitna, now in Detroit. That ‘skittish’ comment Giants GM Jerry Reese made about his quarterback isn’t nearly as damning compared to the apparent rift between Tomlinson and Rivers, highlighted by the reigning MVP apparent displeasure of the signal-caller in last week’s win over Tennessee. There has been plenty of talk about regression on his end as well, but it is mitigated somewhat by the fact that he came along with a future draft pick that turned into LB Shawne Merriman. That said, you have to wonder if his personality would have worked well with the Giants when they fell apart last year. We could also wonder if Manning would have kept quiet if Tomlinson walked away from him (if that’s what happened). One thing is for sure; no matter how much fans want to hang effigies of their points of frustration, at least both teams have their quarterbacks.

There are well over a dozen teams that wish they could say just that.

Say What?!?!: In continuing this theme of “what it”, there’s one more post to get angry about. Two of those teams trying to figure out the future of their quarterback positions are the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. One year after the Manning-or-Rivers campaign, there was the debate between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. Probably not riveting reading for you unless you know what the 2005 Draft meant for both teams. Tomorrow, friends. Tomorrow.

*Please forgive me as the website, unfortunately, is not the most updated right now. Google the paper and my name and you'll find my work - or pick it up in many newsstands in the Boroughs.

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