Eli Manning will be forever known as a New York Giant, but he has one keepsake left from his minutes as a San Diego Charger.
Technically speaking, four players have worn number one, the first eligible digit for an NFL jersey, in the history of the Los Angeles Chargers franchise. Three of them wore it for only a single season. The fourth wore it for mere minutes.
Eli Manning’s first professional jersey bore a different shade of blue, one adorned not with a lower case “NY”, but lightning bolts instead. Upon his drafting out of Mississippi back in 2004, Manning was ever so briefly a Charger, selected by the team with the first overall pick of the draft when the team was still in its San Diego incarnation.
Though both Manning and his father, former NFL quarterback Archie, made it clear he wouldn’t play for the Chargers, a deal was already in place for the New York Giants to select North Carolina State thrower Phillip Rivers three picks later. The deal would send Rivers and a pair of draft picks to San Diego, with the Giants getting back the youngest Manning brother.
Some of the most iconic images of the 2004 draft feature Manning awkwardly carrying his Charger jersey, adorned with the number one, as is traditionally issued to first-round draft picks. In a phone interview on The Dan Patrick Show earlier this month, Manning admitted he’s aware of the jersey’s current whereabouts, perhaps solving the greatest jersey mystery since Tom Brady’s went missing after the 2017 Super Bowl.
“I think my dad wised up and just said, ‘You know, let’s just hold on to that for a rainy day, it might be a good story,'” Manning said. “So it’s in possession, so just to have that for a rainy day.”
Surely, it’s a nice thread for Manning to have over his mantle. An ever so brief reminder on how his roller-coaster NFL journey began. Besides, according to the Mannings, the uniform would’ve suffered a far worse fate if things were left up to his mother, Olivia.
I think my mom had it for a little bit, and I think she tried to, she’s like, ‘Well we don’t need this,'” Manning said. “(She) tried to give it away to somebody.”
At least, by keeping the jersey, Manning has won something from the Chargers. Ironically, they remain one of two teams Manning has yet to beat in his NFL career, the other being the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning will don his far more familiar Giants jersey very soon, as the team opens its training camp activities later this week. Both he and Rivers will embark on their 15th seasons with their respective squads this season.