Eli Manning finally reveals why he refused to play for Chargers after they took him with the top pick in 2004


It’s been 17 years since the Chargers made Eli Manning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and to this day, the two-time Super Bowl winner has never really explained why he didn’t want to play for them, but that changed this week. 

During an interview on the “10 Questions with Kyle Brandt” podcast, Eli finally revealed why he refused to play for the Chargers, who were then located in San Diego. 

“It was my decision having talked with my agent, coaches, [general managers] and owners,” Manning said. “Going through the draft process, I was just worried about the Chargers organization at the time. I felt it was the right decision and I had a little pull. I quietly tried to say ‘Hey, please don’t draft me, it can be our secret,’ and they didn’t keep the secret part very well.”

At the time, Manning was represented by Tom Condon, who also represented the Chargers coach at the time (Marty Schottenheimer), the quarterback at the time (Drew Brees) and the team’s star running back (LaDainian Tomlinson), so Condon likely had a good feeling for how Manning would have fit it in. Back in 2004, the Chargers also were gaining a reputation as a place young quarterbacks should avoid: Drew Brees had a rough first two seasons in San Diego and that came shortly after the team’s debacle with Ryan Leaf, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. 

Due to those two things plus a few other factors, Eli felt that San Diego was a less than ideal landing spot. 

Manning had plenty of opportunities to explain why he didn’t want to play for the Chargers during his career. For instance, before the Giants played in San Diego in 2013, Eli was asked why he didn’t want to play for the Chargers.

His answer?

“I forgot.”

Now that he’s retired, he’s clearly not worried about offending anyone, which is likely one reason why he was willing to open up about the subject now. Over the years, the belief was that his dad, Archie Manning, talked him out of going to the Chargers, but Eli says that simply wasn’t the case. 

“It wasn’t my Dad. He was trying to take the heat off of me, he knew I was going to get criticized,” Eli Manning told Brandt. “After that, the Chargers turned it around, they got Shawne Merriman, then Drew Brees started playing great, then Philip (Rivers) started playing great, they went to AFC Championship games, they’re making playoffs and turned things around.”

The 2004 draft ended up being one of the most dramatic ones in NFL history. Just days before the draft, Manning’s agent (Condon) told the Chargers that Eli would sit out the entire 2004 season if the team drafted him with the first overall pick.

The Chargers ended up ignoring the threat and they decided to take Eli with the top pick anyway. Although Manning would get traded to the Giants less than an hour later, he did end up posing for what will likely go down as the most awkward draft day photo in NFL history.

Eli Manning definitely didn’t want to play for the Chargers. 
Chris Trotman, Getty Images

That’s the closest thing to a hostage photo that we’ll probably ever see at the NFL Draft. 

Shortly after the photo was taken, Manning was traded to the Giants. In the deal, the Giants got Manning while the Chargers received Rivers, a 2004 third-round pick (that turned into kicker Nate Kaeding), a 2005 first-round pick (used on linebacker Shawne Merriman) and a 2005 fifth-round pick. 

One twist in this story is that Eli actually kept his Chargers jersey, which is a piece of information he revealed back in 2018

In a sweet bit of irony, the Chargers ended up as one of two teams that Eli faced but never beat during his 16-year career. Manning went 0-4 against the Chargers and 0-4 against the Colts (He also never beat the Giants, but he never faced them since he spent his entire career in New York). 





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