"He was a Charger for 45 minutes," Smith said "and that was too much time to be a Charger, in my opinion."
Smith was of course referring to Manning's openness about not playing for San Diego, a mindset that was said to have come from Eli's famous father and brother.
Knowing that, Smith took advantage of an overzealous Ernie Accorsi - who saw Manning as his new Johnny Unitas - and walked away with five bodies in exchange for the rights to Manning.
One of those bodies was QB Philip Rivers, who the Giants drafted with the fourth overall selection. It was agreed by many at the time that Rivers was the better of the two QBs, a sentiment that is still held today, but Accorsi coveted the pedigree and swung the deal.
Seven years later, the Giants have a championship and the Chargers are still wanting.
Smith made a great deal for his team that day, but his hubris has done him in since. Sure he has Rivers, a fiery leader with impressive stats, but his team has imploded in other areas.
The Chargers converted the additional picks from the Manning deal into K Nate Kaeding, LB Shawne Merriman and OT Roman Oben, who has since retired. All three would be exceptional pickups for Smith, but ones he can no longer hang his hat on.
The bottom line is the Chargers have still not won the big one. In fact, they haven't even gotten to the big one. Over the years, the team around Rivers has gone from ultra-talented to marginal, leaving Rivers stark naked on some Sundays. To his credit, he has excelled through it all, keeping the Chargers competitive.
That does not absolve Smith, however, whose career has taken a nosedive since the trade. He is still joined at the hip by underachieving head coach Norv Turner and has not drafted an impact player since Merriman in 2005.
Merriman's Charger days are over after a slew of injuries and suspensions. After a celebrated entry to the league, which included being named All-Pro three times, Merriman has played only 17 games since 2007 and ended 2010 with the Buffalo Bills on their injured reserve list.
Kaeding has become one of the league's top placekickers, but New Yorkers know him best as the guy who cost the Chargers three playoff games (two against the Jets and one vs the Patriots). He is a typical Charger: great in the regular season, not so great come January.
So, when I read about A.J. Smith and his coup of '04, I just shake my head. His big deal has wrought nothing. In fact, it has added to the half-century of failures that haunt the Chargers and their fans.
Perhaps Rivers will bail him out someday and win a big game. I can envision that. But will Smith still be a part of it? Smith wisely extended Rivers' contract in 2009 for six years, but the way he's been managing his team, he may not be around much longer if his Chargers don't ramp up the effort - and soon.
The Giants could have kept Rivers and won a championship or two with him. Instead they are doing it with Eli. Had Accorsi passed on the deal, who knows what would have happened, but one event cannot be reversed: Super Bowl XLII. The Giants will always have that.
Out west, Smith and Rivers are still wanting.