Tuesday, September 27, 2005 | Most of San Diego took great delight in sending New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning back to New York – New Jersey, actually – with an earful of abuse and a whipping in the Chargers’ 45-23 win Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium.

Me? I hope Eli comes back. Soon. Have you ever seen San Diegans so passionate and united in civic pride?

Until Manning spurned San Diego, saying he didn’t want to play for the Chargers as the first pick of the NFL Draft in 2004, I thought my wife was the only person unimpressed with moving to our town.

When she came to the United States from China, we first spent a week in Hawaii. Then we landed in San Diego on a cold, rainy winter night. She wanted to go back to Hawaii.

If you remember the sequence of events surrounding Manning’s petulant rejection of San Diego, he said he didn’t want to be drafted by the Chargers, who held the rights to the first pick. Knowing the Giants coveted Manning, the Chargers took him anyway in a high-stakes poker move by Chargers’ general manager A.J. Smith. After the Giants drafted North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers with the fourth pick, the teams swapped quarterbacks and the Giants included three more draft picks to get Manning.

The Chargers subsequently won the AFC West title with a 12-4 record. Eli and the Giants stayed home from the postseason in New Jersey with a 6-10 record.

I’d like to see Eli come back to San Diego and say he doesn’t like the idea of the Padres winning the National League West with a losing record. The Padres would respond with a winning streak this week against the rival San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final week of the regular season.

Eli could say he likes how San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds is getting away with chasing down Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in career home runs while sticking to his story that he never knowingly used steroids and thought he was rubbing flaxseed oil into his body. San Diegans, and hopefully baseball fans everywhere, would reject Bonds the way fans discredit track and field athletes caught using steroids.

He could come to San Diego and declare he likes our form of city government and the integrity of our city leaders. Angry San Diegans would unite to understand the issues and elect responsible leaders with vision.

Eli could say he likes Qualcomm Stadium just the way it is. San Diegans would be outraged and recognize that Qualcomm as it exists is a financial sinkhole with $50 million in deferred maintenance. They would realize a new stadium would be a site that generates tax revenue, attracts the financial bonanza of future Super Bowls and provides a home for San Diego State football, the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

He could say he doesn’t see progress in Tom Craft’s overwhelming task of turning around San Diego State’s football program. Aztecs fans would recognize that Craft is putting pieces in place with recent recruiting classes. They would see that while SDSU lost to UCLA, it was Oklahoma that was embarrassed by the Bruins, and that while SDSU lost to Ohio State, it was Iowa that was embarrassed by the Buckeyes.

Eli could say University of San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh should have stayed with the comfort of an NFL job as an Oakland Raiders assistant instead of enjoying the college environment as the head coach of a Division I-AA program. San Diegans would appreciate what they have and turn out to fill Torero Stadium, a quaint, on-campus facility that seats 7,000.

He could say he appreciates how the San Diego Unified School District poorly funds extra-curricular activities such as athletics and music programs. San Diegans would realize the value of stable coaching staffs on a high school campus (kids don’t stay after school two hours with their English teacher). A total school approach creates a learning environment on campus and no sport sets the tone for school pride better than football. It’s similar to how a pro sports team unites and energizes a city.

Eli could rally San Diegans to accomplish all this and truly make America’s Finest City more than just a catchy title.

Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at

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