Love affair

"The interesting thing is that there was one conversation at the league meetings. There was one call early the next week, that's two. There was one call 10 days in advance, that's three. There was one call that I made before the draft, that's four. He called me back Friday, that's five. The sixth conversation is when we made the deal." - Accorsi <BR><BR>

Ernie Accorsi was no different than anyone else in the NFL. He had heard all about Eli Manning, a.k.a. Archie's son and Peyton's brother. Towards the end of Eli's junior season, the rumors began that he might enter the NFL Draft a year early.

"Jerry Reese told me that he might come out and that I better go see him," Accorsi recalled.

At that point, all Accorsi had seen of Manning was on television. Scouting every Saturday afternoon, Accorsi was used to watching Southeastern Conference games from his hotel room at night.

"Of course you knew about him with his background," he said.

So Accorsi went to see Manning in person, on Nov. 2, 2002 against Auburn.

"I flew to Oxford and froze my ass off," he said.

It was certainly worth the trip.

Manning threw for 284 yards and three TDs, completing 26 of 46 passes, in a 31-24 loss.

"They lost, but they were outmanned," Accorsi said. "He kept the team in the game and got them ahead 17-16 late in the game. He was moving the team, carrying the team on his shoulders. After I got back I wrote a report on him.

"My words to Jerry were 'if he comes out we should trade up to get him.' "

How prophetic.

Manning decided to stay at Ole Miss, so Accorsi paid special attention any time the Rebels were on the tube last year.

"He did the same thing against Auburn on the road and he won," Accorsi said. "He took complete control of the team."

Manning led his club to a 24-20 victory, completing 19 of 30 passes for 218 yards and two TDs. He guided a 10-play, 80-yard drive with 2:39 to play, setting up a game-winning scoring plunge by RB Brandon Jacobs.

"I felt that this was the quarterback that could set us up," Accorsi concluded.

As if he hadn't already seen enough, Accorsi was on hand for Manning's workout on March 11.

"The exclamation point was his workout," he said. "He threw every throw that you can make."

Manning held a dual workout with Tulane QB J.P. Losman in Manning's hometown of New Orleans. The Giants had a self-described army on hand – Accorsi, Reese, Tom Coughlin, Chris Mara, John Hufnagel and Kevin Gilbride.

Accorsi watched most of the workout with Eli's brother and reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning.

"He said his dad (Archie) was too nervous to watch so he was driving around the parking lot," Accorsi said. "I said, 'you could go get him; he has nothing to worry about.' "

But Accorsi certainly did.

"When I walked out of there, I said there's no way we're getting him," he said. "I never thought San Diego would pass him up. I left there feeling really down, because I thought we're not getting him."

Fast forward to late March at the league meetings in Florida.

That's the first time Accorsi spoke to Chargers GM A.J. Smith about the possibility of obtaining Manning.

New York Daily News columnist Gary Myers saw Accorsi and Smith heading to the bathroom together.

"I said 'don't read anything into this,' " Accorsi laughed. "Our prostates are the same age."

The conversation ended with Accorsi vowing to call Smith after the meetings. Of course he followed through, phoning San Diego on April 7 to see what it would take to get a deal done.

"A.J. said he wanted to see who's interested and collect everyone's best offer 10 days before the draft," Accorsi recalled. "I wasn't going to give him my best offer. I didn't have Tim Dwight (involved in the Michael Vick trade) and I didn't want to offer any of our players so I told him if he had a player to ask for to do so."

Accorsi was surprised, but not upset, that Smith let the cat out of the bag that they had talked. However, that didn't preclude the Giants GM from phoning Smith 10 days before the draft to throw New York's hat into the ring.

Accorsi called Smith again the Thursday before the draft but did not change his offer, which included no players nor New York's top pick in 2005.

Smith responded, calling the day before the draft with his trade demands – a first-round swap of picks, the Giants' second and third picks in this draft, their top pick the following year and promising DE Osi Umenyiora.

"I told him that's too high and that we're so far apart that I don't see how we can ever get there," Accorsi said. "He left it that one of us would call the other the morning of the draft."

Ten minutes before the draft kicked off at noon, John Mara was in Accorsi's office and asked if they should contact Smith. Accorsi said: "No, we're not blinking."

Neither made the call. However, a close friend of Accorsi's had previously told him not to be surprised if the Chargers selected Manning, then traded him during the draft. That's why Accorsi said he didn't panic nor grow despondent once Manning was off the board.

So the Chargers picked Manning and the Raiders grabbed Robert Gallery, whom the Giants also tried to trade up to get once it appeared they were out of the running for Manning. The Cardinals selected Larry Fitzgerald third.

The Giants were on the clock with about eight minutes left. New York was extremely close to consummating a deal with Cleveland to move down three spots and pick up an extra second-round pick.

Then Smith called.

"He said they have to have Osi or there's no deal," Accorsi said. "I said 'then there's no deal. We're not going to give away a young pass rusher.'

"He said to give him our best shot. He wanted this year's 2 and we didn't want to give it up. All along we knew we'd give up next year's 1 but we didn't want to do it until we had to.

"We threw in the fifth (in '05) instead of giving a player and that's what closed it."

Of course, none of this became official until after the Giants selected Philip Rivers. The NFL won't allow teams to trade a player for an unused draft choice. So, Accorsi was left banking on a phone agreement.

"The danger in it is he still could have said no deal and there would have been nothing I could do about it," he said. "I had to trust him."

Just as he now must trust his instincts that Eli Manning is the man to lead the Giants to the Promised Land.

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