EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** They play on opposite coasts and in different conferences, but Eli Manning and Philip Rivers will forever be linked in NFL history.
Justin Tuck was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week...
Latest Giants Injury Report
View the latest Giants-Chargers injury report heading into Sunday's game...
Infographic: Eli vs. 2004 Draft
How does Eli Manning rank among other QB's from 2004 Draft? ...
Know Your Opponent: Chargers On April 24, 2004, the San Diego Chargers selected Manning first overall in the NFL Draft. The Giants chose Rivers at No. 4. The two teams then engineered one of the most significant draft-day trades ever, with the Giants sending Rivers, their third-round selection in that draft (No. 65 overall), and first and fifth-round picks in the 2005 draft to the Chargers for Manning.
"(I remember) just the excitement of being drafted and then traded to the Giants," Manning said today. "A lot of things went down that day. Ultimately, I remember it as a positive day and a fun day of my life."
Manning and Rivers will meet for the second time on Sunday, when the Giants and Chargers, both 5-7, tangle in Qualcomm Stadium. It will be Manning's second start in San Diego; the Giants lost the first, 45-23, in 2005, and Manning was loudly booed all night. Drew Brees was then the Chargers' quarterback.
Manning has never publicly discussed why he didn't want to play for the Chargers, though his desire was known prior to the draft.
"Nothing against San Diego as a city," Manning said. "We had our rookie symposium there, but besides that, I have been to San Diego for a few other things. I know it's a beautiful city and great weather and has a lot of great things to it."
Asked specifically why he didn't want to be a Charger, Manning smiled and said, "I forgot, I think."
Manning and Rivers started in the same game just once, on Nov. 8, 2009. Rivers threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with 21 seconds remaining in the game to give San Diego a 21-20 victory in Giants Stadium.
Now they meet again, though each quarterback is trying to downplay the significance of the individual matchup.
"It didn't come up yet this week. It really hasn't," Rivers said. "It's obvious it exists and that it happened and there are a lot of memories there, but I'm sure Eli will say the same thing. This is about, at least from my standpoint, the challenge of facing this Giants defense, trying to get a win to keep us alive. They've won five of six, so I know Eli is trying to keep them going. I know it's a good side story, but I don't think it's at the top of either of our minds."
The big Manning-Rivers trade was engineered on the Giants' end by then-general manager Ernie Accorsi, who had long coveted Manning.
"I remember Ernie Accorsi making that deal, of being 100 percent in belief that this was the right thing to do for our franchise," said Tom Coughlin, who was preparing for his first season as the Giants' head coach. "I remember that Ernie had studied Eli since he was a freshman in college and had really a strong, strong feeling about him. I remember the fact that he had the confidence and the constitution, if you will, to push the deal through. It wasn't an easy deal to make. I can remember him informing Mr. (Wellington) Mara what he was trying to do at the time and I'm sure Bob Tisch at the time as well. But it was a move that he made with great conviction. Philip Rivers has had an outstanding career in San Diego and Eli Manning has had an outstanding career here, so I think you have a win-win situation there."
Manning and Rivers are certainly two of the very best quarterbacks of their generation. Manning has started 147 consecutive regular-season games, the third-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history and the longest active streak. He is 83-64, a .565 winning percentage. Manning has completed 58.6 percent of his 4,879 passes, thrown for 34,522 yards and 226 touchdown passes against 162 interceptions.
Rivers played just two games in each of his first two seasons, but his current streak of 124 consecutive starts leaves him directly behind Manning on both the active and career NFL lists. He is 75-49, a winning percentage of .605. Rivers has completed 64.3 percent of his 3,998 career passes, thrown for 31,524 yards and 212 touchdowns against 102 interceptions.
The big difference between the two has been postseason success. Rivers led the Chargers to four consecutive postseason berths from 2006-2009, but never advanced past the AFC Championship Game (losing in 2007 to the 18-0 New England team the Giants defeated in Super Bowl XLII). Manning's Giants have played in five postseasons and won Super Bowls in 2007 and 2011.
Asked if he had any doubt that Accorsi made the correct decision almost a decade ago, Coughlin said, "None whatsoever. There are a couple things (Vince Lombardi trophies) out in the hallway you might want to take a look at."
Rivers believes the trade worked out well for both teams.
"I know that I'm thankful that I've been here 10 years and I know my family has grown quite a bit in my time here and we're thankful for being here," Rivers said. "I certainly can say it's been a win for those guys in New York. Eli's led them to two championships and has had a heck of a career."
Manning and Rivers have been friends since before that fateful day that set the course for their professional lives.
"I know Philip, I met Philip in college and did some football camps and different things together," Manning said. "I've sent him text messages and called him over the years, congratulate him on seasons and different things. I've gotten to be around him some and I think he's a tremendous player and I've always kept up with him, just because he came out the same year and followed him in college and knew him a little bit. He's had a tremendous career and is playing great this year and he's a good football player."
But Manning, not exactly the sentimental type, said he's never reminisced about what might have been.
"I've never looked back on those things and I think it's worked out well for both programs," he said.
Rivers is equally unemotional about the past.
"I don't think about it as much, because I didn't really think the Giants was a realistic spot for me," he said. "But when they drafted me, (I thought) it must be something going on with San Diego."
Manning and Rivers weren't the only quarterbacks selected high in the 2004 Draft. Ben Roethlisberger was taken 11th by the Pittsburgh Steelers and has won two Super Bowls.
"There are certain guys or certain positions and certain things that you're always linked to," Rivers said. "I know for the three of us being in that draft class and how everything went down that there's always going to be the comparisons. I don't know that I follow them so much to see where I stack up against them, but more so just they're guys that you know you're going to be linked to forever. With the '04 draft class, they're going to talk about who did what and who did this and it's not something that necessarily motivates you, but it's something that you're aware of. I've got a great deal of respect for Eli and what he's done and the quarterback he is and the player he is. But it's not like, 'What did he do this week? Or what did he do next week?' There's too many more things important than to get caught up in that."
"All three of us have had good careers and been in the same spot for 10 years, which you don't always see," said Manning. "I definitely have kept up with all of those guys and got to know them some and got to talk to them, but you're kind of proud of your own class. You kind of hope your class will go down as a good class of quarterbacks and players."
Consider it done for the class of 2004.