SAN DIEGO (AP) – Eli’s coming.

Enough said.

Seventeen months after Eli Manning told the Chargers not to select him with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, the quarterback will finally play in San Diego when his New York Giants (2-0) visit tonight.

Manning will know exactly where he is just by the booing. The Chargers, smarting from an unexpected 0-2 start, no doubt will dig in a little deeper and tee off a little harder.

“We’re definitely motivated to beat them and to show him that we are a better team than he thought at the time of the draft,” linebacker Ben Leber said. “And, more importantly, the fans are feeling crazy about it and we don’t want to let them down.”

Those fans, by the way, will have an extra 41/2 hours to get revved up at their tailgate parties.

“Definitely the fans are going to be riled up,” Leber said. “It’ll help us in the long run. If they can make some noise and get in his head, that would be great.”

Manning knows that’s coming.

“I don’t think it’ll be too pleasant. I’m sure I’ll get booed. I’m sure they’ll be loud when we have the ball,” said Manning, who’s thrown three touchdown passes and two interceptions in leading the Giants to wins over Arizona and New Orleans. A few days before the 2004 draft, Manning’s camp told the Chargers to pick someone else at No. 1, and implied the Ole Miss star would sit out if San Diego took him.

Not being one to take orders from the outside, hard-line general manager A.J. Smith picked Manning anyway, then let him twist in the wind for about 45 minutes. Manning even had to hold a Chargers jersey and pose with commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

“I still have a lot of fond memories of draft day, it was just a confusing time at the time,” Manning said. “I didn’t know what my outcome would be for the season, where was I going to be playing, what was going to happen.”

Smith then dealt Manning to the Giants for Philip Rivers and a handful of picks.

“I think at the time it was kind of a slap in the face to not only this organization, but just the whole NFL, the way the draft works,” Leber said.

Manning wouldn’t say why he didn’t want to come to San Diego.

“It wasn’t one thing specifically, it was just a place where it didn’t seem like the right fit for me and a place where I thought I’d be comfortable playing for a long period of time,” he said.

At the time, the Chargers were coming off an NFL-worst 4-12 finish in 2003, and Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer were on the hot seat.

There was speculation Manning’s father, Archie, didn’t want his son to get stuck with a perennial loser like he did with the New Orleans Saints.

Eli Manning denied that.

“He didn’t talk me into this. It was my decision,” Eli Manning said. “He got asked to be brought into it by the Chargers. After I’d made my decision and told them, they wanted to talk to my dad and visit with him, so he agreed to talk to them. He had nothing to do with it, so I’d like to clear that up.”

Smith, who was quick to notify the media after the Mannings issued their ultimatum, went silent this week, refusing all interview requests.

The furor died down as the Chargers went 12-4, won the AFC West and reached the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

Some Chargers are trying to downplay Manning’s visit, especially after they lost at home to Dallas and then at Denver.

“The focus should be on us trying to get a victory,” linebacker Donnie Edwards said. “We’re trying to get to 1-2. We let two games slip. I don’t care who’s back there, if I get an opportunity to sack the quarterback, I’m going to sack the quarterback.”

Asked how he felt when Manning dissed the Chargers, Edwards said he couldn’t remember.

But, with a twinkle in eye, he said: “I’m happy with Philip, because Philip’s a cool guy, you know?”

Rivers continues to sit behind Drew Brees, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2004 who’s already thrown three interceptions this season and two TD passes.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson knows how his defensive teammates probably feel about Manning’s snub.

“The offense doesn’t have any reason to be angry, but the defense, they might be,” Tomlinson said.

And the emotions of the fans are sure to trickle down to the field.

“Anytime our fans are into it, it energizes us and we get into it a little bit more and give it a little more effort on every play,” Tomlinson said. “With that said, if they’re excited and getting on him and booing him every time and giving him a rough time, I’m pretty sure our defense will pick it up a little bit and give him an extra shot or so.”

The Chargers are shocked at their winless start. After the Giants game, the schedule gets a lot harder, with games at New England, home against Pittsburgh, then consecutive road games against Oakland and Philadelphia.

The Chargers certainly have issues, like blowing a 14-3 lead at Denver, and the fact Tomlinson has been held to just 124 yards in two games and has yet to catch a pass.

“I think right now guys are really just more concerned about what we’re doing and not doing,” outside linebacker Steve Foley said. “We’ve got a problem that’s a lot bigger on our hands than Eli Manning is right now.”

But Manning is certainly on the list.

AP-ES-09-22-05 2021EDT


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