My Take - Eli Manning and Ernie Accorsi: Forever Linked in Giants History

Let me start by giving you a little background information about myself. I by birthright was born and raised an Ole Miss Rebel fan. As a child I fell in love with the Rebels when my long time friend's father took both of us to watch the Rebels play the home games in 1992. Back then the Rebels were good but not great. A glaring weakness was the quarterback position. I had always hoped that the Rebels could land a game changing signal caller. One day in 1999 came along a quarterback the team and the program would never forget.

Elisha "Eli" Nelson Manning was born January 3, 1981. He was the son of former NFL and Ole Miss great Archie Manning. Eli was only 3 when his father retired from the NFL, therefore, he was too young to see his father play. His older brother is NFL great Peyton Manning. Both Archie and Peyton played quarterback. So obviously Eli was born to be a quarterback. Eli was the youngest of 3 sons. Both Cooper and Peyton were older and more outgoing than Eli. His brothers were high school standouts. Cooper was an all state wide receiver. He received a scholarship from Ole Miss but unfortunately his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Peyton went on to play at the University of Tennessee. He did very well and was picked #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts.

Eli was a shy child and wasn't exuberant like his brothers. He was rather reserved and kept to himself. He and his mother shared a special bond. They were the quiet ones in the family. To give you an example of Eli's personality, he once came home from a baseball game and someone asked him at the dinner table how the game went. Eli kind of shrugged it off and said it went fine. Come to find out later Eli had hit the game winning home run in the 9th inning. That's just the type of kid he was. He was modest and didn't want to draw attention to himself. As a freshman, he was named the starting quarterback and earned all-state honors for his high school team. How spoiled was this high school program? They got Peyton Manning, he graduated and then came Eli. His senior year, USA Today named him high school player of the year. In 1998, many universities were looking to recruit him. He narrowed down his choices to LSU, Florida State, Virginia, Texas, and Ole Miss.

In 1999, Eli enrolled at the University of Mississippi. One of his major reasons for choosing Ole Miss was the new head coach David Cutcliffe. He was the former coach of Eli's brother Peyton at Tennessee. In 1999, the team red shirted Eli. By the 2000 season Eli was an active member of the team. He did not start because they had Romero Miller who was a viable option at quarterback at the time. Ole Miss made it to the Music City Bowl that year. That game was Eli's coming out party. He was the backup until early in the 4th quarter. With the team trailing 49-16 Cutcliffe decided to see what he had in his young quarterback. The team roared back under Manning. They closed the gap but ultimately fell to West Virginia 49-38. The Ole Miss faithful got a taste of what was to come. The Eli Manning era had officially begun.

The 2001 season Eli had to carry the team. He led them to a 7-6 record and an Independence Bowl win over Nebraska 27-23. Late in the 2002 season, Eli's late game heroics made NFL scouts take notice. Many NFL teams had hopes that Eli would leave early for the draft after his Junior campaign. In 2003, Eli decided to stay for his Senior season. He felt he had unfinished business at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss fans everywhere rejoiced. That year Eli led the Rebels to a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State 31-28. Ole Miss finished with a 10-3 record. Such a record was unheard of at Ole Miss. He ended his college career with all the school's passing records. He had 10,119 yards passing, 81 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 137.7. Eli earned the SEC player of the year award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, the Sporting News Radio Socrates award, and the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete award.

Before the draft he was sought after by many teams, one of whom was the New York Giants. However, the Giants could not work a deal and Eli was picked 1st by the San Diego Chargers. Eli, with the advisement of his family, openly expressed prior that he did not want to play for the Chargers. Shortly after the pick, Eli was dealt in a trade to the Giants for their pick Philip Rivers. The Giants had to give up 3 additional draft picks to get Manning. The then Giants GM Ernie Accorsi had scouted Eli and he thought there was no price too big to pay for this quarterback. Accorsi wrote in his notes: "Has courage and poise. In my opinion, most of all, he has that quality you can't define. I call it MAGIC. Peyton had much better talent around him at Tennessee. But I honestly give this guy a chance to be better than his brother. If this guy comes out early,we should move up to get him.These guys are rare, you know. Bobby Boyd told me once about Unitas, Two things set him apart: His left testicle and his right testicle." Early on it looked as if it may have been a bad trade for the Giants. Eli had some struggles his first couple years as most young quarterbacks do. It was once considered that perhaps Eli was a bust. However, the team around him wasn't great either and that didn't help matters. Accorsi retired in 2006 and attended a game in which the Giants lost to the Packers leaving them 0-2. As Accorsi was leaving a Giants fan said to him angrily "Accorsi, thanks for leaving us with this mess."

In the 2007 season, Eli led the Giants to a 10-6 record. They earned their way to the Super Bowl to play the undefeated New England Patriots. No team had ever been 18-0 and the Patriots wanted to be the first team to hoist the Lombardi trophy at 19-0. The Patriots were led by Tom Brady, a 3 time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Late in the 4th quarter, the Giants were leading the game 10-7. It was a defensive struggle. Predictably, the great Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field and on 3rd and goal inside the 10 yard line they took the lead 14-10. Eli had 2 minutes and 39 seconds left on the season to prove Accorsi right. Ernie Accorsi, a year after retirement,was watching the game at home and with tears in his eyes said to his son Michael "If he's going to be what we thought he was going to be, he does it now." The Pats kicked the ball off and the Giants returned it to the 14 yard line. The Giants struggled, moving the ball a little at a time. On 3rd and 5 from their own 44 yard line occurred the most memorable play in Super Bowl history. I am sure Giants fans still get goosebumps when they watch the replay. Eli dropped back, broke away from the grasp of multiple defensive lineman and heaved it down field to David Tyree. Tyree jumped in the air and with one hand pinned the ball against his helmet to make the catch. With 35 seconds left Eli threw a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress to give the Giants the lead 17-14. It was a lead in which the Giants defense would not relenquish. The Giants were Super Bowl XLII champions and Eli Manning was named Super Bowl MVP.

Before the 2011 season, Eli was asked whether he was an Elite quarterback and in Tom Brady's class. He said that he bElieved he was thus insinuating he was one of the better quarterbacks in the league. This statement brought about much skepticism. Many critics scoffed at the idea that he could even be considered in the Elite class . The season prior Eli had 31 touchdowns but also led the NFL with 25 interceptions. The Giants finished that season 10-6 but could not make the playoffs. Eli backed his comments up in 2011 and became known as the most clutch quarterback in football. He led the NFL with 6 fourth quarter comebacks and added 2 more in the playoffs. The Giants finished the 2011 regular season on a tear winning the division in the final week against the Dallas Cowboys. In that game Eli threw his record breaking 15th fourth quarter touchdown.

In the first game of the playoffs, the Giants dominated the Atlanta Falcons the entire game and won 24-2. Eli threw 3 touchdown passes. The next round of the playoffs, the Giants traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin to face the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. In that game, Eli torched the defense for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Giants won 37-20. The NFC Championship game was at the San Francisco 49ers. Eli was battered and bruised in this game. He was hit 20 times and sacked 6 times. It was truly a heroic performance. The Niners were the top defense in the league and Eli took a tremendous beating. Eli finished with over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Giants won the game in overtime 20-17 on a kick from Lawrence Tynes.

Super Bowl XLVI was a rematch between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. The great Tom Brady against Eli Manning. It seemed fitting that these teams met in a Super Bowl rematch because Super Bowl XLII was one for the ages. The Giants took an early lead when Eli threw a touchdown pass to Victor Cruz giving them a 9-0 lead. By halftime however, the Patriots went into the locker room with a 10-9 advantage. The Pats came out of halftime like gangbusters and marched down the field taking a 17-9 lead. This would be the last time the Patriots would score. The Giants added a pair of field goals later in the game to cut the lead to 17-15. Late in the 4th quarter the Pats drove down the field and ate up some clock. Tom Brady missed on a pass to Wes Welker and were eventually forced to punt.Finally the Giants got the ball back with 3:45 left on the clock. Thus setting the stage for yet another Eli Manning 4th quarter comeback. With the ball on the 12 yard line the Giants snapped the ball to Manning. He looked off the safety to the right and fired a 38 yard missile down the left sidEline to Mario Manningham. Eli finished off the drive with a hand off to Ahmad Bradshaw for the go ahead touchdown. The score was now 21-17 after the missed 2 pt conversion. Tom Brady's efforts to win the game came up short when his last second heave to the end zone fell incomplete. Once again Eli and the Giants were Super Bowl Champions. Manning earned his second Super Bowl MVP.

Accorsi deserves a lot of credit in landing Eli for the Giants. It was as if he could see through the young man's soul. Eli has become Montana-like in his late game heroics. He has earned high praise as one of the best late game performers of all time. Accorsi recalled a moment many years ago when he had worked with Milt Davis, a former scout for the Baltimore Colts. At that point Johnny Unitas was in his later stages of his career with the Colts. He had torn tendons in his shoulder and struggled to throw the football. He asked Davis if he thought they could still win with Unitas at quarterback. What Davis told him he would never forget. Davis said "Ernie, let me tell you something, this is how you judge a quarterback: Can he take the team down the field with the championship on the line and get it in the end zone?" This stuck with him for years and after the Giants won Super Bowl 42 he called Davis. He said, "If I don't stand on that field with you in Golden, Colo., all those years ago, I don't make this trade for Eli Manning." Later when reflecting on his career, Accorsi said, "there are very few curtain calls, and this is like a curtain call for me."

Ernie Accorsi and Eli Manning will be forever linked in history for their accomplishments. No one will ever forget what they have done for the New York Football Giants. After many trials and tribulations, Accorsi came out looking like a prognosticator and a genius for what he saw in a young man from Ole Miss. As for the legend of Eli, his Hall of Fame career continues and only time will tell how many times he will lead his team down the field to victory.

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