Three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, one in wich they were slaughtered by the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Football Giants were one made field goal being missed, that beat their cross-town and stadium sharing rivals the New York J-E-T-S', from having the worst record in the National Football League in 2003.
Instead, they finished with the fourth worst record in what was considered, and ultimately proved to be, a quarterback rich 2004 NFL draft. It did not rival the 1983 NFL draft in projections, but it came oh so close to rivalling it in production. It too produced three quarterbacks destined for Canton.
Thinking the 2004 quarterback class may indeed put three quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, and wanting to make sure he got the one he thought was the best of the three, New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi was not going to leave any stone unturned in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft. In general, but possibly also because he was still feeling the effects of being burned in the 1983 draft when John Elway refused to play for the Baltimore Colts and its GM, Ernie Accorsi, Mr. Accorsi was hell-bent to get his man this time. Ironically, despite having the fourth pick in the draft, he was in a position of some leverage for the exact same reason he had little, or none some would argue, in 1983.
Before the 1983 draft, John Elway, the clear number one choice going into a draft that included Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Kenny O'Brien, Todd Blackledge, and Tony Eason -all projected to be starting quarterbacks- declared he would not play for the Baltimore Colts, who possessed the first pick in the draft. He was leery of the instability of the Colts ownership.
While appearing at first glance to be selfish, a tough point to argue against, Mr. Elway was not all that off base as to his assessment of the Colts ownership. Robert Irsay was not an easy man to work with, and had driven a once proud and winning franchise to the depths of the NFL. Proof positive, among many outliers, being their holding of the first pick in the 1983 NFL draft.
Upon the news of John Elway claiming he would refuse to play for the Colts, and his demand to not be drafted by them, or to be traded if drafted by them, Ernie Accorsi was put in a very difficult situation as the GM of the Colts. His options were limited. He could go full bore by drafting John Elway number one and trying to convince him to play for the Colts. Since convincing him to play for the Colts was going to be difficult, if not impossible, Mr. Accorsi ran the risk of wasting the first overall pick in the draft. If john Elway refused to play for the Colts, he could simply sit out the year and become eligible to be picked by anyone in the 1984 draft, as the Colts would lose his rights after one year.
Ernie Accorsi's second option was to not draft John Elway, perhaps take Dan Marino or Jim Kelly with the first overall park. This wasn't a bad option, except that neither of the aforementioned were considered worthy of the first overall pick at the time. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, either of them clearly were. Unfortunately, Ernie Accorsi didn't have the Reverend Jim's DeLorean to jump into the future to see how good either of them were going to be. It was especially difficult as the Reverend Jim was still perfecting said automobile, which would not be ready until 1985.
The third and most viable option was to pick John Elway, and despite the lack of leverage, trade him as best he could. That is exactly what he did. The Colts drafted John Elway and traded him to the Denver Broncos for Chris Hinton, a guard the Broncos took with the fourth overall pick, Mark Herrmann, a quarterback who had played the previous three seasons with the Broncos, and the Broncos first pick in the 1984 NFL draft.
The Colts wouldn't be on the road to being good again until 1998, after they drafted Peyton Manning and Ernie Accorsi was long gone from the Colts organization, ironically in place as the GM of the New York Giants.
It is in this role before the 2004 NFL draft that the tables turned in favor of Ernie Accorsi. Similar to John Elway, Eli Manning, the younger brother of Peyton Manning, declared he was not going to play for the Sn Diego Chargers if they picked him with the first pick in the 2004 NFL draft. While not quite as bad as the Baltimore Colts circa 1983, at the time of the 2004 NFL draft the San Diego Chargers weren't exactly being run like the most well-oiled of machines. The same cries of "selfish", "spoiled brat", and "how dare he" that John Elway faced, were directed at Eli Manning.
Since he had Eli Manning as the highest rated quarterback in the draft, Ernie Accorsi was now possibly going to be the beneficiary of an act that burned him dearly twenty-one years prior.
If he could pull it off.
Pull it off he did!
Despite some people thinking Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger could merit being taken number one overall, the Chargers were having none of it. Consequences be damned, they were not going to let Archie Manning and Eli Manning dictate who they were going to take with the first pick in the NFL draft. They chose Eli number one and waited.
With the fourth pick- the New York Giants would have had the first pick if their field goal kicker had been wide right or left in overtime, for the last win of the 2003 season in Week 8- the Giants drafted quarterback Phillip Rivers.
Not long after that, Ernie Accorsi traded Phillip Rivers, along with the Giants third round pick in 2004, plus their first and fifth round picks in 2005, to the Chargers for Eli Manning.
Statistically, Philip Rivers has had a better career than Eli Manning. So has Ben Roethlisberger, who was taken eleventh overall in the 2004 draft. But, last I checked, the object is to win. While Big Ben has won two Super Bowls, Phillip Rivers has not appeared in any.
After Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 14-10 with almost three minutes left in Super Bowl 42, and Eli Manning was jogging out to the huddle to begin what looked to be the last drive of the game, Ernie Accorsi, who was sitting in the stands in Phoenix, turned to this son and said, "Now we'll know if he was the right guy."
Eli Manning lead the Giants on a glorious drive down the field to win Super Bowl 42.
Then he did it again four years later to win Super Bowl 46. Once again beating the vaunted Patriots.
At the end of the day, Eli Manning won two Super Bowls for the New York Football Giants. In dramatic fashion to boot.
Ernie Accorsi got it right.