Giants’ Ring of Honor inductees recall historic Eli Manning trade
Ernie Accorsi knows football. He knows quarterbacks. And he knows pedigrees.
So when he saw the three of those things combined in one player, he knew he had to make Eli Manning a Giant.
Accorsi, the team’s former general manager, would of course end up putting the youngest Manning in a Giants uniform, but not before a tense, last-minute swap with the San Diego Chargers back on NFL Draft Day 2004.
When he handed the mild-mannered Ole Miss product to his new head coach Tom Coughlin, magic happened. Together, Coughlin and Manning would win two Super Bowls. But while Eli continues to work on No. 3, Accorsi and Coughlin are gone, the former retiring after the 2006 season, the latter parting ways with the Giants at the end of the 2015 campaign.
The two men don’t see each other all that regularly these days, but come Monday night, during the Giants game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the two will be together again, inducted into the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
On a recent afternoon in downtown Manhattan, the two down to lunch with The Record to reflect on their Giants time together. There is no moment that links them more than the acquisition of Manning.
Here’s how it happened, in the words of Coughlin and Accorsi, along with Manning and Giants co-owner John Mara:
COUGHLIN: Our greatest individual moment was the Eli trade, and that was all Ernie, no help, nothing.
ACCORSI: We didn’t have any doubt about the quarterback.
Neither did San Diego, which selected Manning as the No. 1 overall draft pick. But the problem for the Chargers was that Manning and his camp made it clear he didn’t want to play for them. The Giants, drafting in the fourth position, picked N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers, and then pulled off the blockbuster trade, sending Rivers to San Diego for Manning and three additional draft picks. The QB heavy day included Ben Roethlisberger going No. 11 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
JOHN MARA: Ernie had convinced me long before the draft that this was the guy. I was thrilled with that because knowing a little bit about Eli, certainly knowing the family, he was just the guy you want to have in here be the franchise quarterback. The only drawback at the time was, what was it going to take to go up and get him? One of the last hurdles was convincing my father [late owner Wellington Mara] on that. He did not want to give up on Kerry Collins, who had resurrected his career with us. He was very fond of Kerry, and felt at his age bringing a new quarterback, that he had to start all over again. I worked on him for a few days over that, and finally got to the point, almost the last day, the day before the draft, that he came around.
Ernie was very influential also, saying you only have so many chances in life to get a guy you think is a franchise quarterback, you have to take that chance. If my dad had said, ‘No you’re not doing this,’ we wouldn’t have done it.
ACCORSI: It didn’t go through until seven minutes left [in the 10-minute draft window].
COUGHLIN: I know!
ACCORSI: The thing with that whole saga was that I didn’t know the other GM [A.J. Smith]. He was playing coy. He was holding out for [Osi] Umenyiora. … At almost seven-and-a-half [minutes] they tell me Smith is on the phone. So he says, ‘You want Eli.’ I said, ‘Yeah I do.’ ‘It’s going to cost you Osi.’ I said, ‘It’s a deal breaker.’ I wasn’t giving up a pass rusher.
MARA: We were in Ernie’s office. I was sitting across from him. My father was in there, Bob Tisch was in there. My brother Frank was in there. After we got through ‘there is no way we’re trading Osi,’ it got down to picks. I had suggested to Ernie that rather than give up a second-round pick in that  draft, we offer the first in next year’s draft. … But the last hurdle was when they asked for an additional fifth round. I had lost my patience. To hell with that, enough, call their bluff. I remember Frank saying, ‘Don’t lose this guy over the fifth-round pick.’
Again, a franchise quarterback, what are they worth? They’re worth a lot of picks. It was such a strange sequence. I remember being on the phone with Ernie the night before, asking ‘Did A.J. call back?’ They played it very cool right till we were on the clock.
Manning, who’d stood awkwardly holding a Chargers jersey after being drafted, was conducting interviews in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, where the draft was held, when he started hearing rumblings of a move.
MANNING: I remember some little kid busting through, yelling I’d been traded to the Giants, and I’m kind of walking with someone with an ear piece, a draft day worker, and he put me on the spot where I was supposed to stand. I was like, ‘Anything to that?’ He was like, ‘Hold on,’ yeah, you’ve been traded to the New York Giants.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said it means we got to do all the interviews over again.
And so they did. Together, they all made Giants history.