Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Training Camp 2004 [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Mannings made right move all along

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Somewhere, Archie Manning smiles the smile of the wise man. Without having to say, "I told you so," he told us all, and those who did not believe him then believe him now.

And those who don't are just being willfully stupid. And we know how much of that there is going around.

As you recall, Manning went all-in with his son Eli's image and reputation back on Draft Day. He said his son didn't want to be a San Diego Charger, said he wouldn't be a San Diego Charger, and essentially told the Chargers not to make him a San Diego Charger.

Philip Rivers
And the Chargers thought they would have an easier time negotiating with Rivers?
But the Chargers drafted him anyway, and when the Mannings made that "I-just-ate-bad-seafood" face on national television, they were suddenly treated by deep thinkers across the nation as though they were Wu-Tang Clan on Bill O'Reilly.

The Chargers, in turn, worked a deal with the Giants for the rights to the fourth pick, Philip Rivers, and everyone talked about how the Chargers really snookered the Giants and showed the Mannings what's what. General manager A.J. Smith had been promoted to Svengali, First Class, and the Bolts would learn to be happy with the man some draftnerds (the classification between draftniks and dateless) thought was better anyway.

So now what do we have?

Eli Manning in New York, signed and toiling under the watchful eye of Tom Coughlin and the school-by-example of Kurt Warner. And Rivers, home and fuming because he can't get the Chargers to meet his price, and the Chargers, home and fuming because Rivers isn't in camp.

Now I'm no expert on the ins and outs of quarterbacking, but I'm thinking the Mannings don't look so creepy any more. I'm thinking the Mannings are freakin' brilliant.

Not that they needed the Chargers to prove it, mind you. There are few enough times in a pro football player's life when he actually has leverage on his employer that it should never be wasted. Between the embedded media, the non-guaranteed contracts and the ridiculously short career life, football players get the rawest deal of any of the major team sport participants.

Well, with the possible exception of the two women's pro leagues, one of which (the WNBA) pays remarkably little to its players because it can, and the other (the WUSA) because it doesn't even exist.

But we digress. The Mannings were well within their rights before the draft to say what they said and do what they did, because it was going to be the last thing they got to choose for many years. They didn't want San Diego, and if they didn't speak up then, they would have to forever hold their peace.

Even if it meant ending up with the Giants, for God's sake.

Eli Manning
Eli and his family had several reasons to smile after the draft-day trade.
And now, with the Chargers playing hardball with the guy they said they'd rather have anyway, and with an offer that is less than the one Manning signed with the Giants … well, file this under, "Things That Make You Go Hmmm …"

No, strike that. File this one under, "I Told You Morons I Knew What I Was Doing, You Didn't Believe Me, And Now My Kid Is In Camp And The Other Kid Is At Home Wishing He Had Options," by Archie Manning, as told to Mel Kiper.

There are few things better than "I told you so." Intelligence. Dignity. Character. Wealth and sex, sure. And leverage, too, because it's far rarer than the others, and almost nonexistent in the NFL.

But "I told you so" is pretty damned good, too, especially when you don't even have to say the words. All you have to do is smile, and you don't even have to get anyone's attention while you're at it. In this case, Archie Manning is smiling hard enough to make his head split open along its equator.

He's doing this privately, of course, because "I told you so" can turn into mean-spirited gloating with just the slightest misstep, and he has made his reputation as the dignified gent who spent his formative years being beaten nearly flat and half-stupid by defensive linemen. Now that, the NFL likes.

But as we now see, Manning wasn't beaten half-stupid at all, or if he was, he was so smart from the get-go that he could afford the loss without any noticeable setback in motor function. He and his kid are proven correct. The Chargers are proven to be the Chargers, yet again. And Charger fans now get to hate Rivers for leaving, Manning for never coming, and their own management for making it all possible.

And Philip Rivers? He has already learned to have a healthy disrespect for his new team, a gift that will serve him well when he tries to get out of town himself in a few years.

If only he had that choice when it could have done him some good.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com