Mara reminisces about picking Eli over Ben

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
3:27
PM ET
John Mara remembers the Giants organization being torn on who to take days before the 2004 NFL Draft.

Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger?

We all know what has happened since. But it is always fun to look back and Mara fondly reminisced about trading for Manning on WFAN radio on Tuesday.

"We went right to the last day or two before the draft trying to decide between Eli and Ben Roethlisberger, who obviously has been a great NFL quarterback as well," Mara said. "They both have been brilliant. Really, the decision came down to one guy played in the SEC, the best conference in the country, and the other guy played at Miami of Ohio against obviously lesser competition."

"Also, [Manning] was on a team at Ole Miss that didn't have a tremendous amount of talent and he kind of carried that team on his shoulder," Mara added. "We felt he was the better pick for us, but obviously either way they both ended up being great players."

Mara also recounted how his father, Wellington Mara, wasn't keen on paying such a high price to get Manning, who was taken first overall by the Chargers. Wellington Mara had a soft spot for Kerry Collins but the Giants ended up trading Philip Rivers (taken fourth overall), their 2004 third-round pick and 2005 first and fifth-round picks.

"It was not an easy decision," Mara said. "It was one that even my father was against initially because he had such a strong feeling for Kerry Collins, who had played so well for us and kind of resurrected his career. I just felt like and Ernie Accorsi felt strongly also that this guy had a rare talent and was worth taking a chance on."

Mara admits he had some doubts early on when Manning struggled.

"I will tell you there were times where I had some doubts," the Giants president and CEO said. "I can remember so vividly the first minicamp practice that Eli was here for. He just had a terrible day throwing the ball in a windy practice field out here. It was going all over the place and he was surrounded by media and cameras."

"I remember thinking to myself, I hope it gets better than this," Mara added. "Because we just gave up half the franchise to get this guy and he is throwing the ball all over the place."

Mara chuckled as he recounted that. It's fun for the Giants to look back on everything seeing how it all turned out.

"It really wasn’t until the second half of the '04 season when he got into the games [and] he really struggled at first," Mara said. "And then we had that final game of the '04 season when we beat Dallas at home and he takes us down the field at the end of the game to win and that just sort of kicked off his career for us."

"He certainly has had some ups and downs since then," Mara added. "But I will take my chances with the ball in his hand at the end the game every day."
Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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