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Three-quarterback monte

Giants GM Accorsi gambles on Manning during wild draft day

Posted: Monday April 26, 2004 9:53AM; Updated: Wednesday April 28, 2004 4:49PM
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Eli Manning
Eli Manning has prove he was worthy of the Giants' big move.
AP

OAKLAND -- One of the strangest things in NFL Draft history happened Saturday afternoon around 12:45 in East Rutherford, N.J. I'm not sure that even everyone in the New York Giants draft room knows exactly what happened to make this incredible thing happen.

Within a span of about eight minutes, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi had his tentacles into all three of the marquee quarterbacks in this draft.

He quite literally had the fate of each one -- Mississippi's Eli Manning, North Carolina State's Philip Rivers and Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger -- in his hands midway through the 15-minute period the Giants had to make the fourth overall choice Saturday.

Now the story can be told. Accorsi, with 10 minutes left in the period, had an offer he liked on the table with Cleveland to trade the Giants' first-round pick down three spots to the Browns, in exchange for the Browns' seventh overall choice, plus Cleveland's second-rounder. With that pick, the Giants would take Roethlisberger, the cannon-armed passer whose right wing could cut through the overly brisk late-autumn winds at the Meadowlands. Then, with about eight minutes left in the Giants' period, San Diego GM A.J. Smith called, trying to get the Giants to up their offer for Manning, who'd already been picked by San Diego. Accorsi was very interested. Before the deal could have all the I's dotted and T's crossed, the period would have expired, and so Accorsi had to pick Rivers. He had a verbal deal, and he was pretty sure it would get done, but you never know how these things might turn out. Then, the correct paperwork was filed with the league, and the trade got done.

The Giants went from a solid deal that would have left them with Roethlisberger, to drafting Rivers, to trading for Manning -- all in about half the time it takes to watch a Seinfeld rerun.

"You know," Accorsi said last night, "it all happened so fast that I didn't realize it at the time. But you're right. It's amazing. It's one of those things you'll remember for a long time."

To tell this tale, let's go back to the night before the draft. Accorsi got two interesting phone calls Friday night. One, from the Chargers' Smith, was San Diego's latest proposal to try to get this deal done. To this point, the Giants' best offer to acquire San Diego's top pick was their first- and third-rounds picks this year and their second next year. They modeled this deal after the Chargers' trade of the pick that ended up being Michael Vick to Atlanta three years ago. The only thing missing was a player; Atlanta had traded middling wideout Tim Dwight to San Diego as part of the 2001 Vick haul. The Giants were willing to give an OK player, but the Chargers were asking for defensive end Osi Umenyiora -- a fact first reported by Gary Myers in the New York Daily News yesterday and confirmed by a source close to the talks.

Who is Umenyiora, you ask? He's a second-round pick last year, from Troy State in Alabama, with good pass-rush potential. So now Smith asked Accorsi for their first-, second- and third-round picks this year, their first next year and Umenyiora. It's not even close, Accorsi told him. The second call came from an Accorsi acquaintance, someone Accorsi felt was reliable, who told him the Chargers were planning to draft Manning and then try to trade him to the Giants in a package for Rivers as the first round progressed. Surprised at the revelation, Accorsi began thinking that he might have to act quickly if indeed that's the way the deal would transpire.

But he went to bed in his Manhattan apartment Friday night thinking there was no way the bridge would be built, no way the Chargers would tone down their offer enough to get a deal done. And as the time ticked away Saturday morning and Smith didn't call back, Accorsi just assumed that either the deal was dead or the Chargers maybe would call after the Manning pick. The draft began. San Diego picked Manning. No phone call. The Giants were up.

The phone rang. It was Cleveland's capologist, Lal Heneghan. The Browns, who had called two weeks before the draft wanting to move to the Giants' spot, confirmed that they'd still give the Giants their first- and second-round picks in exchange for New York's top pick. The Giants would have to think about it. Accorsi was tempted, really tempted, but he worried that maybe Cleveland might then use the fourth pick to deal to San Diego to get either Manning or tackle Robert Gallery. And if that happened, Oakland, at two, would simply take the guy the first team didn't take -- Manning or Gallery.

Roethlisberger was looking mighty appealing, and that other pick from Cleveland, the 37th overall, might be a nice way to buttress a weak offensive line -- say, with center Jake Grove from Virginia Tech.

Tick, tick, tick.

Less than eight minutes to go. Phone rang. It was Smith. "You haven't called," the Charger GM said. "You still interested?" Accorsi was, and they started dueling over the phone. ("We were both playing poker," Accorsi said later.) For the Giants, including this year's second-rounder was out; they simply had to bolster that offensive line with a highly rated player. For the Chargers, the Giants had to include next year's first-round pick.

Four minutes. Three minutes.

"I knew we had one more play to make," Accorsi said last night. "I was holding back next year's one as the trump card." And now it came out: the one and three this year and the one next year. But Smith still wanted Umenyiora. A deal-breaker, Accorsi said. Smith said he had to have something. Accorsi offered a six in next year's draft. Smith wanted a four. They met in the middle. A five.

With the clock almost expired, the Giants had to take a leap of faith. The deal was done, but it hadn't been turned into the league office. So they picked Rivers. When the ESPN cameras flashed to Rivers, he had the look of a 12-year-old watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Giants didn't even call Rivers, sitting at home in North Carolina, to say the fix was in. A few minutes later, when the deal was official, the league announced it.

Roethlisberger to Rivers to Manning. In minutes.

I have my doubts about this deal for the Giants. The qualities they see as extraordinary in Manning -- which Accorsi described to me as the charismatic, clutch and leaderish "it" factor -- something he also detailed at length to me in the magazine this week in a Rivers profile of mine, and the ability to lift the players around him -- are just as present in Rivers.

But at the same time, how can you not love Manning? Great player, leader and teammate. Might be as good as his brother. For what the Giants gave, though, he'd better be. Accorsi said giving the one in 2005 "didn't bother me at all. Buffalo gave it up for [Tulane QB J.P.] Losman. When you think somebody is going to be as good as we think Eli's going to be, you pay the price you have to pay."

When Accorsi got home, after midnight, he was still wired from the day. He flipped on the TV. Maybe a good ballgame would calm him. But his MLB "Extra Innings'' was dark; the last game on the pay baseball package, Seattle-Texas, was long over. "I just stared at the TV, trying to reconstruct the day. Amazing. Just amazing.''

Accorsi didn't want to make this about himself, but exactly 21 years earlier he'd been the Baltimore GM who picked John Elway when Elway said he'd never play for Baltimore. Sound familiar? He couldn't keep Elway then. He had to get Manning now.

"Destiny owes me one," Accorsi said.

And that's the story of the Weird Quarterback Tale of 2004.

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"Pat Tillman is everything that's good about this country.''

-- New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi.

I am misting up writing that.

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 ... With Tennessee assistant Dave McGinnis, who was Tillman's head coach with the Cardinals.

MMQB: What are your memories of Pat leaving to join the Army Rangers?

McGinnis: "When he first came in to talk to me about his decision (early in 2002), I said, 'Pat, this is going to garner a lot of attention.' He didn't understand. He said, 'There's young men and women all over the country doing this. Why should I be any different?' He never saw himself as anyone different. But as we all know, he catapulted himself to another level.''

MMQB: In your conversations with Pat, do you think he wanted to ever be a football player again?

McGinnis: "Pat Tillman had every intention of coming back into the National Football League.''

MMQB: Why was Pat such a charismatic person?

McGinnis: "He was a very, very real person. He was outspoken. He had very definite ideas. He put on no airs, for anyone. Pat rode a bicycle to work his first year in the league. He wore his hair long. He really appealed to the young kids. He never, ever wanted to be singled out. He was proud to be a member of the Cardinals, and proud to be a member of his new team, the Army Rangers. When he became a free agent (early in 2002), he had a chance to sign elsewhere [St. Louis] for more money, but he chose to stay with us out of loyalty to the Cardinals. That's the way he lived his life. Then he decided to join the Rangers.''

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Third-round Oakland draftee Stuart Schweigert, a safety from Purdue, has been arrested three times for alcohol-related violations, the last of which resulted in the loss of his driver's license for 30 days. He was also involved in a fracas at a Purdue frat house but not arrested for that. His major: organizational leadership and supervision. Not sure I'd want Schweigert organizing and leading and supervising much in my world.  

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Lots of debate on the Corey Dillon deal, and on my "Sopranos'' judgments.

HE QUESTIONS THE PATS' TRADE. From David Rosa of Chicago: "Do you think the Pats trade for Corey Dillon is hypocritical, considering the team-first concept that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli promote, especially since this concept is used to publicly humiliate a questionable character like Ty Law. Also, how in the world could you call Carmela 'hot?' ''

Second things first. For a 48ish woman, she's pretty attractive. Just my opinion. I'm stunned at your first point. To the best of my knowledge, Belichick and Pioli have not been quoted saying anything demeaning anywhere about Law's contract attack on the team, or on his Miami Beach arrest. Law has said enough on the contract issue to humiliate himself, in my opinion.

THE READERS LIKE ROBERT GALLERY'S MANNERS. From Mark Lantz of Redding, Calif.: "Your factoid of the week, about Robert Gallery's restaurant manners, is something. Both the comment about the manners of Gallery and the later comments about the quality group of young men about to be drafted by the NFL is something. I thought about it when I watched the television special about Arnold Palmer thanking the patrons at Augusta National for the privilege of playing for 50 years at the Masters. Thanks for writing about it.''

The NFL is lucky right now. There are some really good kids entering the league this year.

BUT I WENT TO SCHOOL AT OHIO UNIVERSITY. From Geoff Hanson of Rochester, Minn.: "Gallery's table manners aren't anything new. You should leave the coast and come to the Midwest, where everybody treats everybody the way he treated his waitress.''

Ah, I wish it were so. Geoff, I love going to the Midwest. As I drove from Iowa City to St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded what a beautifully vast country we have.

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IF BARRY BONDS GETS AN ASTERISK, SO SHOULD BABE RUTH. From Darryl McCree of McKinney, Texas: "About your Barry Bonds comment, I think all records before 1946 should have an asterisk, because if Josh Gibson was allowed to play the home run record would be way out there. The Babe would have a challenger, and from what I've read about these two men, both were great competitors.''

Great, great point. Thanks for making it.

I STILL THINK DAVID CHASE HAD AN OFF-NIGHT LAST WEEK. From Julie of Baltimore: "You're way off about The Sopranos. Tony meeting his dad's 'floozy' served as a metaphor for his own infidelities. He flashed back to what it was like when his dad wasn't there for his family. When did he flash back to that? When he was with his own floozy. Tony doesn't want to be that guy, away from his family. This is the first important catalyst for Tony and Carm's eventual reconciliation. Carm coming to the understanding that she won't be able to have a normal relationship outside the family was another. Come on, Peter, you're smarter than that.''

No, I'm not. But I do know what I think, and I think the show could have spent five minutes, not half the show, with Polly Bergen and accomplished the same thing.

AN INTERESTING SOFTBALL QUERY. From Tim O'Connor of Niagara Falls, N.Y.: "I watched a women's softball game over the weekend (Emerson v. Suffolk on the Boston Common): Why do third basewomen play sooo far in? Is there a constant bunt threat, do coaches practice dentistry on the side, or what?''

People who watch competitive softball for the first time are always shocked at that. But with the distance between bases 60 feet, not 90, any ball laid down in front of the plate has a good chance to be a hit unless it's pounced on immediately. Thus the third baseman plays pretty regularly 35-to-40 feet from home.

CONGRATULATIONS, BORON. From Ken Kindschi of Boron, Calif.: "The Boron High School girls varsity softball team has won 122 consecutive league games, a state record. Over 10 years without a league loss. Could you mention them and the accomplishments of this small town of less than 2,000?''

Mention you? Of course. I just wish I could come see the team play. I did notice on Friday, unfortunately, in the Los Angeles Times that the amazing winning streak ended with a 1-0 loss on Thursday. Still, no reason not to celebrate the team.

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Uh, do we still live in the United States?

The price of gas at a 76 gas station on the outskirts of San Francisco Thursday afternoon:

Regular, $2.41.9

Plus, $2.51.9

Premium, $2.59.9

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1. I think this is the way the late Pat Tillman should be honored in the NFL this year: Every helmet on all 32 teams should have Tillman's initials with an American flag, and the inside of every stadium should be adorned with a Tillman remembrance. I'd love to see the NFL come up with a hero award, different from the Man of the Year award. This Pat Tillman Hero Award could be for a player who does something, with little fanfare but some personal sacrifice, that benefits the larger community.

2. I think the one little story about Tillman that I'll never forget came in his rookie year, when I interviewed Tillman fresh off his bike, which he'd ridden to the team's training facility that day. Don't remember what he said about it, but I know now he rode his bike to work every day, unsure if he'd stick long enough with the Cards to get the house and car he wanted. Plus he figured if he lived so close to the facility, why drive? A bike worked just as well. My opinion is that in 100 years, school children across a changed United States will be reading books about an American hero named Pat Tillman.

3. I think I hate draft grades, because drafts just can't yield grades that mean anything right now. Five years ago, two of the first three picks in the draft were Tim Couch and Akili Smith. I'm sure some report card somewhere just after that draft said Smith would be a great NFL player. Like now, we have no idea which of the four first-round quarterbacks will have good or great pro careers, but Losman has a heck of a chance to succeed. The Bills have a good offense right now, and they're pretty young at important positions on that side of the ball. They've got the highly qualified Tom Clements and Sam Wyche to tutor him. I really like Philip Rivers, as you can tell from reading this column the past three weeks.

4. I think the events of the week overtook the fascinating trade between Cincinnati and New England, but it deserves mention here. When I first heard of the deal, I said: Why in the world would the Pats, a smart team, trade a second-round pick for Dillon five days before the draft when the market didn't push them to do it? The market was saying that maybe on draft day a fourth-round pick would get it done. What happened is that Cincinnati owner Mike Brown had some spine. He told the Raiders in March and the patriots in April that anyone who wanted Dillon would have to think of the compensation like they would for a top-five NFL running back. The Raiders, who were the only other team remotely serious about this, called the Bengals on March 5, and when Brown reiterated his feelings, dropped out and never called again. Now, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis has made a load of personnel calls since taking over as coach, but Brown told him very simply this offseason that even though Dillon might be a huge distraction, Brown wasn't going to deal him unless he got his price, so Lewis had better get used to thinking of Dillon as a Bengal. Enter the Patriots. After Belichick and Pioli had a two-hour dinner with Dillon nine days ago in Massachusetts, and after his ouchy groin passed a Pats physical, New England felt strongly that Dillon could be a 1,200-yard back for the next three years. Why quibble over the price if that's what it is? Could they have hardballed the Bengals? Probably. The price of a mid-two on Monday would likely have dropped as Saturday's draft wore on. But could they be sure of that? And if it didn't happen, and the Patriots lost Dillon to someone else because they were trying to call a dangerous man's bluff, how sick would they be then? In the end, I see it as a great trade for both teams -- assuming Dillon's not a turd.

 5. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I like Nomar Garciaparra as much as I've liked any Red Sox player since Carl Yastrzemski, but I have to admit I don't mind Pokey Reese at short and Mark "Walking Man'' Bellhorn at second. I am also shocked to say this, but financial reality says the Red Sox will be incredibly fortunate to keep three of their big five looming free-agents after the season (Pedro, Nomar, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, David Ortiz). And I now think Varitek is more important to this team than Garciaparra, particularly if Nomar's going to be a $16 million-a-year player. I'd rather them keep Varitek, sign a good pitcher, and spend a little more than they think wise on Ortiz. By the way, six of seven over the Yankees is nice, but let's not get too excited on April 25.

b. Montclair High School Softball Note of the Week: A 3-1 week, capped by a 9-2 loss to mighty crosstown Montclair Kimberly Academy, the state's 12th-ranked team, left the retooled Mounties at 7-5 with two weeks to go before the state tournament cutoff date. Southpaw Mary Beth King had her 11th career shutout before the MKA loss, 5-0 over Teaneck on Thursday --- the first of the 11 I missed. Can't see 'em all.

c. Coffeenerdness: The most underappreciated coffee in the United States can be had at Peet's, which is the poorman's Starbucks on the West Coast and scattered in some other cities. Had a couple of Peet's lattes over the weekend, and I wouldn't mind seeing them nestled in Jersey.

d. Carmela, come on. How could you do it? How could you let Tony back? Thought you had more pride than that.

6. I think these drafts I liked: Buffalo (because I love Lee Evans and think Losman's going to be a good player), Detroit (who wouldn't like Roy Williams and the most explosive back, Kevin Jones, in the first round?), Oakland (Robert Gallery and Jake Grove will be standout offensive linemen for years), Houston (I like Dunta Robinson more than DeAngelo Hall because of his physical nature, not just his speed), and San Diego (love Rivers, plus the extra first-rounder next year).

7. I think these drafts I didn't like: Philadelphia (first- and second-round picks for the second-best tackle in the draft, Shawn Andrews, who has battled major weight problems), Cincinnati (Chris Perry over Kevin Jones is a big mistake), and Washington (I'm still down on them for the idiotic deal that sent the second-round pick to Denver in the Champ Bailey-Clinton Portis trade).

8. I think it was interesting being around the Raiders over the weekend. Got an audience with Al Davis, and was amazed about his knowledge of picayune football things, at least on a national scale. He knew a locally famous football coach in Montclair, N.J., Clary Anderson. "What was the name of that running back from Montclair who went to Notre Dame?'' he said. I knew but couldn't remember either. We spent a minute trying to come up with it, but it just slipped our minds. Al, it's Aubrey Lewis.

9. I think I like how ESPN concentrated more on football in this draft, particularly in educating America on the players' pluses and minuses. But as I wrote the other day, Michael Irvin simply has to stop screaming.

10. I think the significance of the life of Pat Tillman is this: Sacrificing your wants and needs and hopes to do what you think makes the world a better place is the most admirable thing a person can do in this life.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.

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