CHANDLER, Ariz. - Vindication for former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi came in one gut-wrenching, last-minute drive engineered by Eli Manning to win the Super Bowl.
The architect of the blockbuster trade that brought Manning to the Giants on draft day 2004, Accorsi has been the scapegoat for frustrated Giants fans for the past 31/2 years.
Every time Manning struggled, Accorsi got blamed for mortgaging the future of the franchise on Peyton Manning's not-as-good little brother.
Manning finally delivered on those high expectations when he led a game-winning 83-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes of Sunday's 17-14 win over the New England Patriots. He was the MVP of a Super Bowl that will be long remembered as one of the greatest upsets in football.
'I couldn't be happier,' Accorsi said Monday at the Giants' team hotel. 'I have a thick skin. To me, it was part of the job. If he wasn't playing well, I was going to be criticized. I don't have any vindictive feeling. It was too great a moment to think about that.'
Accorsi said the frantic fourth quarter in some ways mirrored the ups and down of the past four years with Manning.
It started in the 2004 draft.
Despite being encouraged by the Manning family to pass on Eli, San Diego drafted him No. 1. The Giants then acquired him from the Chargers for the rights to quarterback Philip Rivers - the No. 4 pick overall - and a couple of draft picks, one who turned out to be All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Accorsi loved Manning's natural skills, and after an interview the general manager was convinced he was the quarterback the Giants needed.
'He was unflappable,' Accorsi said of Manning. 'His mother told me when her mother passed away that 'Eli gets his calm from my mother. He is different from Peyton.' I always thought he had the perfect makeup. I am sure (criticism) bothered him but he never showed it, so I was not worried about his makeup and I wasn't worried about his talent.'
'With a quarterback the difference for me is always the intangibles ... Can he take the team down the field with everything on the line and get his team into the end zone? That's all I care about.'
On Sunday, Manning did. Still, he didn't reach the peak before finding another valley.
With New York clinging to a 10-7 lead with 8:32 to play, Manning scrambled out of the pocket near his own 30-yard line and overthrew a wide-open Plaxico Burress with a lob pass along the left sideline.
'Your quarterback just cost us the championship,' a Giants fan sitting in front of Accorsi turned and yelled.
It seemed prophetic when Tom Brady took over on the next possession and led an 80-yard drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss with 2:42 to play.
Then it all came together. With everything on the line, Manning took his team down the field and got into the end zone in the final minute with a 13-yard pass to Burress.
Naturally, Accorsi was thrilled. So, too, was a former critic sitting in front of him.
The man who accused Manning of costing the Giants the Super Bowl 8 minutes earlier turned and tried to kiss Accorsi.
'He was aiming right at my lips, but he didn't get that close,' a laughing Accorsi said while shaking his head.
Manning reviewed the season on Monday, noting the Giants overcame the adversity of an 0-2 start by sticking together and believing in themselves.
The only difference he felt the day after his biggest game was now he could call himself a Super Bowl champion.
'It doesn't change my attitude, my personality, or even my goals for next season,' Manning said, noting he would not mind playing in next year's Super Bowl against Peyton, who won last year's MVP award in leading the Indianapolis Colts to the title.
'It's still the same. I'm happy today, I'm fired up and I'm going to enjoy this moment. You still want to do it again. You still want to have this feeling again. It's hard to say that now because you're still enjoying it now, but you have to have the same commitment to playing football. I've got to become a better quarterback.'
First things first. Next up for the Giants is today's ticker-tape parade in New York.
'Everybody's looking forward to it,' Manning said. 'I'm sure New York will throw a pretty good parade for us.'
After that, the Giants have some housekeeping chores.
Coach Tom Coughlin is expected to get a lengthy contract extension that will pay him around $5 million annually. He made $3.25 million this year and was to make the same in 2008.
Linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor, safety Gibril Wilson, kicker Lawrence Tynes and punter Jeff Feagles - all starters in the Super Bowl - are free agents.
'We'll get moving on that as soon as we get back,' said general manager Jerry Reese, the man who replaced Accorsi.
Most of the players looked tired on Monday after a long night of partying.
'I might have laid down for an hour or two but I don't think I slept,' center Shaun O'Hara said. 'I think I just closed my eyes. It might have been the first time I slept with a smile on my face.'