Manning let the Chargers know he didn't want to play there, and when a trade hadn't been consummated, San Diego chose Manning. With a deal close, the Giants picked quarterback Philip Rivers, and the trade was made later.
Asked if he remembered draft day, Mara said, "I remember it very well. I remember the night before the draft, I don't know how many phone conversations I had with Ernie asking him, 'Did (Chargers general manager) A.J. (Smith) call yet?' And there wasn't. A.J. played it pretty cool and there wasn't any communication the night before, until I think we were on the clock. So it really did go down to the wire. Our backup plan was Ben Roethlisberger, so either way we felt like we were in good shape but we had our hearts set on Eli at the time. I think mostly because of the level of competition he had played at and the fact that he really was that team at Ole Miss. He didn't have a lot of talent around him and I think that's what tipped the scales in his favor for us at that time."
As for what he recalled about Accorsi's scouting report on Manning, Mara said, "Just that he has something that very few players have: the ability to put a team on his shoulders and carry them. The one line I remember from the report is, 'He can't really run with the football. It's just not in him unless it comes from Olivia (Manning) and I never timed her.' That's what he put in the report."
Meanwhile, Giants general manager Jerry Reese reacted incredulously when he was asked if he ever believed Manning would play at his current level. Said Reese, "Eli has been playing at a high level for a long time. It really confuses me when people say he hasn't played at a high level. Who are you guys looking at? He has been playing at a high level for me for a long time. At the beginning of the season, I said that Eli was in the 'wheelhouse' of his career.' He is one of those guys that can self-correct.
"Last year, he was trying to do so much and we talked about it. A sack is a good place sometimes. Last year, our offensive line was banged up, our receivers were banged up. It was similar to where it's been this past season. He corrected those things and is taking more sacks. Last year, he was trying to get rid of the ball and put it in harm's way a little too much. He knew that. He corrected that stuff. Eli has been playing at a high level for a long time."
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski's return highlighted Thursday's Super Bowl XLVI practice.
Appearing in the second half of the nearly two-hour session, Gronkowski participated on a limited basis for the first time since suffering a sprained left ankle January 22 during New England's 23-20 AFC Championship game victory over Baltimore.
"He did some things. He didn't do everything," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow. I think that will be the big key - how he responds to this today."
Asked how encouraged he was by what Gronkowski did Thursday, Belichick said, "It was good. It was fine. We'll see where he is tomorrow -- whether that set him back, whether it didn't and whether he's able to continue to progress on a daily basis. But it was a good test for him, too, at least. At least he was out here and did some things to see how it feels. We'll see how it goes."
Gronkowski enjoyed one of the most prolific seasons for a tight end in NFL history with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Brady chasing hero Montana
The 49ers fell a game short of facing Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI, so they'll have to rely on the Giants to at least temporarily postpone Brady's coronation as the winningest quarterback in NFL postseason history.
In fact, he's making an assault on the records of a pair of Bay Area legends this week.
When Brady takes the field Sunday, he'll tie former Broncos and Stanford quarterback John Elway for the most Super Bowl appearances by a quarterback in NFL history at five.
And a victory would be his 17th career in the postseason, snapping a tie with Joe Montana atop the NFL record books.
It's a bit ironic for a quarterback who grew up idolizing Montana while attending games at Candlestick Park.
"I remember being in the parking lot (before games) throwing the ball, wearing my Montana and (Steve) Young jerseys," Brady said this week. "It was really great to grow up in the Bay Area at that time and watch two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. That's really where I began to love football."
Call it karma
Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Giants owner John Mara were two of the most instrumental owners in attempting to end the lockout last offseason. Kraft was asked if it's ironic that the two teams are now meeting in the Super Bowl.
"A lot of people have said that. If there's special karma out there, then maybe that has something to do with it," Kraft said. "I'll tell you, John was terrific. What he did, he spent more time at it than I did. He was there every day. That family for 90 years has represented New York so beautifully in the NFL. They always put the NFL first. He's a special man."
Forte OK with franchise tag but ...
Running back Matt Forte said he will be all right with the Chicago Bears using the franchise tag on him as long as it leads to a long-term contract from the team.
Forte is wary that the Bears may be using the tag just to hold his rights for another season and prevent him from entering free agency.
"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But, if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."
A change in general managers may help Forte and the Bears come to an agreement. Chicago hired Phil Emery to take over for Jerry Angelo on Jan. 28.
"I would expect (a new GM) to affect (the talks) positively," Forte said. "Hopefully, if we don't reach a deal by the time the franchise tag has to be placed, if they do franchise me, it's in order to get a deal done."