Commentary

Manning: Make your own Luck, Andrew

Eli sends message to Stanford star, saying he has no regrets about directing his draft

Updated: October 27, 2011, 12:34 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins aren't going to want to hear this. Not when they're already coming to New York winless. And not when they're still stinging from Sunday's fourth-quarter collapse against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, which left them looking so inept it revived the "Suck for [Andrew] Luck" talk in South Florida.

But seven years ago, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was the consensus No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, same as Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is now. And then -- same as now, with Luck -- there was speculation that Manning and his football father were going to control where Eli landed.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesEli Manning wasn't a San Diego Charger for long -- orchestrating a draft-day trade to the Giants he said he doesn't regret.

Manning ended up telling the San Diego Chargers he wouldn't play for them, and he looked pained when they went ahead and chose him No. 1 overall anyway. He posed awkwardly with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, holding a Chargers jersey until, barely more than an hour later, the Giants finally pulled off the blockbuster trade that brought him to New York.

So, Manning was asked Wednesday, any regrets?

"No, I don't have any regrets -- I've enjoyed being here, enjoyed how everything worked out on the draft day, and, you know, I'm happy being a Giant and happy with what I've done here," Manning said.

Within four years, Manning led the Giants to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history and won the game's MVP award for his spectacular play in the Giants' stunning last-minute defeat of previously unbeaten New England.

Luck is considered even more of a lock to be a quarterbacking star than Manning was. As "sure things" go, Luck is more often compared to Peyton Manning, Eli's older brother. Super Bowls are predicted for him, too. NFL greatness is taken as a given.

But even if you don't buy into the idea that all of that is guaranteed, what does seem plausible is that Luck and his father, Oliver Luck, the former Rhodes scholar quarterback who played for West Virginia University and now works as the athletic director there, will take a look at the landscape when this season is over before deciding whether Andrew will leave school for the NFL.

And the worse the Dolphins have looked, the more rumblings there have been that the Lucks might just decide the Dolphins are too much of a mess from top to bottom to risk trusting them with Andrew's career. Then they'll make that known, same as Eli and Archie did, and same as John Elway and his father, Jack, then the coach at San Jose State, did heading into the 1983 draft.

Andrew Luck
AP Photo/Paul SakumaAre you listening, Andrew Luck? The Dolphins could get the short end of the stick if the Stanford star follows in Eli's footsteps.

"I don't blame them -- I would do it for my son, absolutely," said Giants backup quarterback David Carr, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans in 2002 and walked into the opposite of the situation Eli Manning encountered with the Giants a year later.

The Texans were a brand-new expansion team when Carr arrived. He was hammered so relentlessly behind a bad offensive line, it's often been speculated that the beating he took, and the constant losing and other setbacks he had to absorb, prevented him from becoming the quarterback he might have been.

The Texans did well to win four games that first season, but Carr was sacked an incomprehensible 76 times. That "improved" to 68 sacks his second season.

"Quarterbacks are like any other player -- we don't like to get hit, either," Carr said with a smile Wednesday. "If [Luck] has put himself in the position to be able to choose where [in the NFL] he can go, how can you blame him if he uses it?"

The team the Dolphins now put on the field isn't totally without talent. The larger questions revolve around the makeup of the organization itself, and especially owner Stephen Ross. Ross was unabashedly wooing Jim Harbaugh to be his new coach last offseason, even though he hadn't actually gotten around to firing Tony Sparano, who remains the Dolphins' coach to this day.

Ross surely will dump Sparano after this season and the Dolphins will have to start over yet again, same as they did four years ago when Ross brought Bill Parcells to town for another partnership that ended badly. But the way Ross let Sparano twist for weeks and undermined him in his own locker room as a lame duck coach still shadows the franchise.

Sparano is accurately seen as a dead man walking, and so is his staff. Just this week, several Dolphins players threw Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan under the bus by saying everyone in the world -- yes, even them -- knew Tebow would run the ball on the two-point conversion he made to tie the game with seconds left in regulation Sunday. Yet Nolan had them in the wrong defense, with the wrong personnel on the field.

As bad as things have been, though, the Dolphins' players haven't appreciated hearing that their fans are pulling for them to lose the rest of their games this season so they can draft Luck and live happily ever after. And neither has Sparano, even though he confirmed Wednesday in his conference call with New York reporters that his Miami house is already for sale.

Manning insisted he wasn't at all aware of the "Suck for Luck" campaign that's gaining momentum in Miami and even around his brother's winless Indianapolis team, for that matter, because of Peyton's slow recovery from career-threatening neck surgery. But Eli seemed uncomfortable talking about it even after someone filled him in.

"I hadn't seen it, hadn't heard about it, so I don't have many thoughts about that, I guess," he said, shrugging.

But Manning has spoken in the past about his decision to jilt the Chargers, insisting it was his choice all along, and not his father's. And you can believe that or not if you like. What is sure is, once it came time for him to play in San Diego for the first time the following season, there was no question who had to deal with the payback that night; it was all Eli, not his football-playing daddy. And Manning played well in a Giants loss, even though the San Diego crowd was howling at him and every hit or sack or shove the Chargers laid on him seemed to have an angrier-than-usual edge.

So what would Manning tell Luck to be prepared for if Luck makes the same decision to control his NFL destination?

"I'll talk about it if it happens, if he calls me," Eli said, trying to slip the question again.

But it was too late. Everything Luck needs to know was already in the answer Manning gave just a minute earlier:

No regrets.

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