It was the year 2004. The New England Patriots had just defeated the Carolina Panthers for the franchises second Super Bowl Championship*, Peyton Manning had just won his second MVP, everyone wondered whether or not Brett Favre would retire, and the San Diego Chargers were the owners of the #1 overall pick for the second time in four years.
Heading into the 2004 NFL draft, San Diego Chargers franchise were still stuck in a post Super Bowl XXIX hangover. The team made the playoffs in 1995, but were defeated at home by Jim Harbaugh and the Colts. The next several years would filled with futility.
In 1998, the franchise drafted Ryan Leaf #2 overall, one pick after Peyton Manning. Heading into the draft there was a lot of debate over who the Colts should take with the #1 overall pick; they selected Manning, the less physically gifted, but far more disciplined player. In the time since Manning would make the Colts a perennial playoff team, while Leaf was off the Chargers roster by 2001; the year the team selected Drew Brees with the #32 overall pick.
From 2001 to 2002 Brees showed signs of eventually developing into a great Quarterback. The Chargers looked like a team improving with each game, and in 2002 the team went 8-8, with Brees starting all 16 games.
2003 was a disaster however, and once again the Chargers landed the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. With a starting record of 2-9 in 2003, Brees looked as though he'd never pan out to be a full time NFL starter. In 1998 the Chargers missed out on one Manning, in 2004 the franchise had an opportunity to make good and draft Peyton's brother, Eli.
And so they did. And just like that it seemed as though Eli Manning would pull the plug on Drew Brees' tenure as San Diego's QB.
But something happened that April afternoon; Eli, under the guidance of his father, former NFL/NCAA star QB Archie, decided he didn't want to play in San Diego. Eli had learned from his fathers mistake of what happens when you end up with a bad franchise. Archie spent his entire career with a New Orleans Saints team that never got close to good; and both Eli and Archie watched what happened to Brees to and Leaf. In 2004, San Diego was the place where good QB's went to die.
So Eli informed the Chargers that he wasn't going to sign, and the Chargers made a trade which sent Philip Rivers, who the Giants selected #4 overall, to the Chargers in exchange for Eli, and some draft picks.
San Diego didn't have the guy they wanted, but they had a solid QB they thought they could develop, and after the draft they decided they were going to give Rivers time to develop, and let Brees continue to play out his contract.
On the other side of the country were the New York Giants. In 2000 the team went to the Super Bowl with QB Kerry Collins. Since 2000 Collins was a solid, though sometimes erratic QB in Jim Fassel's offense. After a disappointing 2003 season, in which Collins missed the final 3 games of the season, the Giants cut ties with both Collins and Fassel. Collins would end up in Oakland for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
In June, about six weeks after acquiring Manning, the Giants signed Kurt Warner to a deal. Warner was the league MVP in 1999 and 2001, as well as the Super Bowl MVP in 1999. The Giants figured that the supposed "declining" Warner could serve as the transitional QB to Manning.
Under Warner, the Giants would start the season 4-1, before winning only one of their following 3. At 5-4, it seemed as though Warner was truly declining, and the Giants decided to give up on pursuing .500 and a potential playoff opportunity and figured to let Eli develop instead. The Giants would win only one game in seven tries under Eli, but the torch had officially been passed. Warner signed with the Arizona Cardinals, the final team he started against in 2004, for the 2005 season.
(Note: In 2003 Warner's last game as a starter was against the Giants who he started for the following season in 04. Weird right?)
Meanwhile in San Diego, Drew Brees had developed in a pro QB. With Rivers holding a clipboard, Brees took the Chargers back to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years in 2004. Although they were one and done to the New York Jets, the future was looking bright in SD.
In Arizona, Kurt Warner truly looked finished, as he and the Cardinals would go a putrid 5-11; topped only by Kerry Collins and 4-11, Raiders. In 2006 the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart to take over for Warner, and Collins headed to Tennessee where he was set to keep the seat warm until Vince Young was ready to steer ship.
In New York, things were looking good. Though the Giants were one and done, Eli had lead the team to an 11-5 record and an NFC East title.
2005 was good for San Diego, but not great. The Chargers would go 9-7, but Brees would earn a spot in the Pro Bowl. Due an injury in the last game of the season, Brees missed the Pro Bowl, and the same injury likely caused the Chargers to decide to let Brees go and hand the keys over to Philip Rivers.
In 2006 both Warner and Collins would due their duty and start the season, then hand the starting job over to Leinart and Young. Leinart looked promising, and Young would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Brees, who had signed with New Orleans for 6 years/60 million (SD offered a 5 years/50 million incentive laden deal) took the Saints to the deepest they'd ever gone in the playoffs.
Rivers and the Chargers won 14 games, though they lost in the divisional round to the Patriots. The same playoffs where Peyton Manning would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Eli and the Giants went back to the playoffs, but like Rivers, were one and done.
In 2007, Warner had a comeback year. Leinart failed to progress as a sophomore, and Warner started 11 games and passed for over 3,000 yards for the first time in six seasons.
Kerry Collins spent most of 2007 on the bench.
Drew Brees and the Saints came down to earth, but more because of the Saints defense than Brees' play.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers made it into the playoffs and in the first round defeated Vince Young's Titans raising questions about Young's ability to play QB at the pro level. In the following round the Chargers would defeat Peyton Manning's Colts. The Chargers would end their season as victory number 18 in the Patriots recording breaking 18-0 run, a run that ended with Eli Manning.
In 2007 pressure began to build for Eli. The New York media began to critique his leadership and ability to win the big game. All of that ended when Eli lead the Giants on a miracle run, which included a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
The effects of the 2004 NFL Draft came into full form in 2008.
In 2008, Warner and Collins won back their starting jobs. Warner beat out Leinart in training camp, Collins took over after a Vince Young meltdown following week 1. Warner would lead the Cardinals to their first Division championship since moving the Arizona, and Collins would lead the Titans to the best record in the NFL.
Eli and the Giants kept their Super Bowl momentum going, earning the team home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Rivers would lead the league in passer rating, as the Chargers would win the AFC West with an 8-8 record.
And Drew Brees would challenge almost every major passing record as the QB for the Saints.
Warner, Collins, Eli, and Rivers all played in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Only Warner would advance.
Warner would lose in the Super Bowl to another QB from the 2004 draft, Ben Roethlisberger, who the Pittsburgh Steelers took in the first round, after Eli and Rivers were off the board. Rumor has it however, that if the Giants couldn't get Eli, they were going to select Roethlisberger, who they valued over Rivers.
Instead the New York Giants landed Eli Manning and a Super Bowl XLII victory. The Chargers landed Philip Rivers and have been a contender ever since. The Cardinals landed Kurt Warner who helped turn the franchise from the league's worst franchise into one of it's most feared. The Titans landed Kerry Collins who gave the team it's best single season run of the decade. The Saints landed Drew Brees who, like Warner, helped ressurect a fledgling franchise. And the Steelers landed Ben Roethlisberger, who rewarded the team with two Super Bowl rings since 2004.
All because Eli Manning didn't want to play for the Chargers.
So when you watch Eli vs Brees this weekend, think about how these two are linked. Think about How Brees' awful 2003 season has shaped the NFL since. Think about all the names mentioned in this entry.
One thing is for sure though, things worked out pretty well for all six franchises.