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The Draft That Still Blows Cold

Someone in Eli Manning's party -- which included his agent, Tom Condon; his father, Archie, a former star with the New Orleans Saints; and brother Peyton, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts -- told the Chargers,
Someone in Eli Manning's party -- which included his agent, Tom Condon; his father, Archie, a former star with the New Orleans Saints; and brother Peyton, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts -- told the Chargers, "Don't consider us" in the weeks preceding the 2004 NFL Draft. (Nick Laham - Getty Images)

"It motivated me and the blood started to flow," Smith says. "This gives you more juice, no question, if you have any pride at all in yourself and what you're doing."

Neither Archie Manning nor Eli Manning has offered a reason for why the Chargers seemed like a bad fit.

"I don't want to go around talking about it," Archie says politely. "San Diego should be credited with the season they're having."

And Smith seems to be enjoying every moment of his team's success. There have been problems in his locker room. One of his players was shot by police, another was arrested on the edge of the practice field and Merriman was suspended four games for testing positive for a steroid.

But Smith has managed to build one of the most talented teams in the league, and the Manning trade was an important piece of the reconstruction.

"I'm proud of the way we dealt with [Manning's refusal to play in San Diego] and I'm proud of the outcome because I think we did some very positive things to get good football players on our team and send someone packing who didn't want anything to do with us."

Still, he can't resist one final shot.

"The only ironic thing that I find to this day is when I find out it's a family decision and a family discussion with some outside people, meaning Tom Condon," he says, stretching out the words decision and discussion for effect. "And they gave all this information to Eli, this college student coming out of [Mississippi] and he weighs all this information, contemplates his future and wakes up and comes in in the morning and meets his family and Tom Condon and says, 'You know I've weighed all this information and I've made a decision. I just don't want to go to San Diego.' And I find the whole thing comical."

Smith shakes his head again and mumbles.

Eli Manning has said little about the trade other than to praise Rivers whenever asked. Ernie Accorsi, the Giants' general manager who became obsessed with Eli's ability after watching the player in college, also refuses to get into many discussions about the deal. Accorsi, who is retiring after this season, has limited his comments so as to not distract the Giants as they fight for a playoff spot.

Other than to shoot down as "lore" a long-held story that his determination to get Eli Manning dates from his days as a young executive with the Colts who watched as John Elway refused to play for the team and did not want the next Elway to get away from him, Accorsi will say almost nothing.

"I think Eli Manning is going to be a championship quarterback," Accorsi said in a brief e-mail. "Last year he won a division championship, this year we have struggled as a team. That has not changed my opinion of how good he will be before his career is over."

Thus the strongest voice on this subject is Smith's. And the man who had been turned away in the days before the 2004 draft seems all too willing to shout.

"It was simple," he says. "We were going to get what we wanted."

It seems he did.


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