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EoF Time Machine: Eli Manning really didn't want Chargers to draft him

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

This is not the face of a man happy to be drafted first overall. (Getty Images)

This might be one of our favorite NFL Draft-related photos ever (after this, naturally).

The scene: April 24, 2004, and the Chargers hold the first-overall pick. After a four-win season behind Drew Brees and Doug Flutie, and five years removed from the Ryan Leaf debacle, San Diego was back in the market for a franchise quarterback.

Then-general manager A.J. Smith made no secret that Eli Manning was the guy -- except that days before the draft Manning, through his agent, said he had no plans to play for the Chargers. So in the spirit of saving everyone the hassle, San Diego should focus its pre-draft efforts elsewhere.

"He told me that Archie [Manning, Eli's father] wishes that we do not select Eli and that they think he would be a good fit in New York [with the Giants]," Smith told the San Diego Union-Tribune back on April 22, 2004. "We understand his position and certainly understand his interest in New York, but we will do what we think is the best for the franchise, without a doubt. ...

"We had a good visit with Archie," Smith continued, "and expressed our vision for the future of this team and that there was a strong possibility that Eli might be picked by us with the first pick."

Put another way: "Dear Mannings, we're very sorry to hear that you hate our organization but that won't have any bearing on our decision to draft Eli with that first overall pick. Just so you know."

And that's exactly what happened. And the result was the awkward photograph you see above.

According to wire reports, when then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that the Chargers had taken Manning, the crowd at the Theater at Madison Square Garden booed loudly. And when Tagliabue announced a short time later that the Chargers had traded Manning to the Giants, the crowd booed again.

In addition to quarterback Philip Rivers, who the Giants drafted fourth overall, the Chargers received New York's 2004 third-round pick and 2005 first-round pick. (San Diego drafted kicker Nick Kaeding and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, respectively.)

In the early years, the trade favored San Diego -- the Chargers won 12 games in 2004, nine games in '05 and 14 games in '06 (Rivers' first as the starter). New York, meanwhile, managed six, 11 and eight wins in Manning's first three years (he didn't become the starter until late in '04).

But the balance shifted in '07 when Manning and the upstart Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Manning then joined the conversation as one of the league's elite quarterbacks after winning his second championship following the 2011 season.

In retrospect, not a bad deal: Two Lombardi Trophies and counting versus a few uncomfortable moments on stage nine years ago.

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