PHOENIX -- I cannot tell a lie. Most of the time when Mike Freeman and I go head to head on a topic, I'm nervous. He's talented, he's persuasive, and he generally picks the easier side of an argument.
But today I'm not nervous, because Freeman isn't that good. He isn't that persuasive. He's trying to argue that the New York Giants hoodwinked San Diego in the 2004 trade that essentially saw Giants quarterback Eli Manning be exchanged for four players, including three Pro Bowl performers in San Diego: Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.
|Philip Rivers nearly led San Diego over the unbeaten Patriots for the AFC title despite playing with a torn ACL. (Getty Images)|
Find a white towel. Can someone please call this off? Freeman's bleeding, and I haven't even started jabbing him with facts.
Eli Manning led the NFL in interceptions this season and was the league's No. 25 quarterback in passer rating, seven spots behind Rivers. Eli Manning once had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same game, setting a Giants record. Eli Manning is perpetually one bad throw, and one bad game, away from going into a shell and never coming out.
I have not read Freeman's story on this topic in advance, nor will I ever -- for the same reason I don't watch video of Ali-Wepner: gore makes me sick -- but I can imagine his one and only argument: Eli has the Giants in the Super Bowl. San Diego has not been to the Super Bowl since that trade. Advantage, Eli.
To say Manning led the Giants into this Super Bowl is like saying Trent Dilfer once led Baltimore to the Super Bowl. Sure, Dilfer was there. He made it. So was right tackle Harry Swayne. But Dilfer's numbers that season were pedestrian at best: 59.3 percent accuracy, 12 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and a 76.6 passer rating.
Those are unimpressive numbers, because Dilfer was an unimpressive quarterback. And yet proportionally speaking, they are almost identical to the numbers Manning put up this season for the Giants, given that Manning started 16 games to Dilfer's eight in 2000. Manning completed 56.1 percent of his passes, had a 23-20 ratio of touchdowns to picks, and had a 73.9 passer rating.
Hell, based on the numbers you could argue Dilfer was more effective in 2000 than Manning in 2007.
But I don't have to make that argument. Mine is much easier: The Chargers robbed the Giants in 2004.
Look who the Chargers got: Rivers. In two seasons as a starter he has gone 25-7 and led the Chargers to the AFC title game. He played that game, last week in New England, on a shredded ACL in the same knee that had undergone arthroscopic surgery six days earlier. He's a tough SOB, and his career numbers are significantly better than Eli's. But just to be fair, since Rivers wasn't thrown to the wolves as a rookie like Manning was, let's compare just their numbers since Rivers became a starter in 2006:
Rivers: 61 percent, 6,540 yards, 43 TD, 24 INT, 87.4 passer rating.
Manning: 57 percent, 6,580 yards, 47 TD, 38 INT, 75.5 passer rating.
Who won the Eli Manning for Philip Rivers trade?
Total Votes: 23,143
It's all over but the piling on, which I'm about to do. In addition to an exchange of quarterbacks, the Chargers got three draft picks, which they parlayed into Merriman, Kaeding and a trade with Tampa Bay for offensive tackle Roman Oben.
Since coming into the league, Merriman has made three Pro Bowls in three years and has led the league in sacks with 39½. Kaeding has become the NFL's career leader in field goal accuracy (86.7 percent) as well as the fifth-most accurate PAT kicker (99.52 percent). Oben started at left tackle for 16 games in 2004, the year the Chargers improved from 4-12 the previous year to 12-4 by unleashing an offense that has been among the league's top five in scoring ever since.
In short, the Giants got Eli Manning, who has never appeared in a Pro Bowl and whose career passer rating of 73.4 is closer to Joey Harrington's (69.4) than Damon Huard's (82.0).
The Chargers got a Pro Bowl player at the same position -- Rivers -- in addition to the most dominant pass rusher of this era, the most accurate kicker of this era, and a building block of a left tackle.
I'm not saying the trade went badly for the Giants. Since then they have gone 35-29.
But I'm saying it went better for the Chargers, who have gone 46-18.
Why are we even arguing this? Because Manning and the Giants have the good fortune to be in the NFC compared to Rivers and the AFC-bound Chargers, who ran into the New England Patriots one round earlier this postseason?
This was too easy. I feel empty. Excuse me while I go give Mike Freeman a hug.