Why did Eli Manning refuse to play for the Chargers? Revisiting the NFL icon's controversial decision

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC at AFC
Why did Eli Manning refuse to play for the Chargers?

Eli Manning is among the best quarterbacks of the modern era, but his NFL career began somewhat oddly.

Following a stellar collegiate career at Ole Miss, Manning entered the 2004 NFL Draft as the clear favorite to be selected first overall. The San Diego Chargers, who had the top overall pick in that year's draft, were nearly a lock to sign him. But something odd happened: the star quarterback implored the Chargers not to select him in the draft.

Eli Manning's father, Archie, had similarly declared that his son would not play for the Chargers as the 2024 draft approached. However, neither father nor son offered a convincing explanation for their desire to stay away from San Diego.

Despite all of the Mannings' pre-draft drama, the Chargers remained unperturbed. The team went ahead to select Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick.

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Manning was dealt to the New York Giants an hour after the Chargers had selected him. In the same deal, Phillip Rivers and other later-round picks were sent to San Diego.

Eli Manning was frequently quizzed about why he declined to play for the Chargers throughout his 16-year tenure with the Giants, but he refused to provide an explanation.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP winner Manning didn't open up about his draft-day departure from the Chargers until two years after he retired.

Why did Eli Manning choose not to play for the Chargers?

Eli Manning acknowledged that, contrary to popular belief, his father Archie Manning had no impact on his decision to decline a chance to play with the San Diego Chargers, in a 2021 interview that aired on NFL Network.

"It was my decision having talked with my agent, coaches, general managers and owners around the league," Manning revealed. "Going through the draft process, I was just worried about the Chargers organization.”

Manning's mistrust of the Chargers’ ownership, management and coaching staff at the time was the main factor in his trade. He also disclosed that although he had hoped that the team would keep the decision a secret, they had not.

"I quietly tried to say, 'Hey, please don't draft me. It can be our secret,' and they didn't keep the secret part very well," Manning said.

Manning would win two Super Bowls in New York, both against Tom Brady's New England Patriots. Also, Phillip Rivers developed into one of the league's most reliable quarterbacks over his 16 seasons as a professional with the Chargers.

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