From the moment Mario Manningham's contract with the San Francisco 49ers expired, rendering the 27-year-old a free agent, there wasn't a doubt in his mind where he wanted the next chapter of his football career to take him.
In fact, Manningham preferred the pages just be turned back to the very beginning, with the same team that lit up his cell phone on draft day six years ago -- the New York Giants.
"Once a Giant, always a Giant," Mannningham told Giants.com's Michael Eisen as the Giants offically announced Manningham's signing as a free agent. "That's how I feel. This is a very special place. I wanted to come back."
At the end of the 2011 season, Manningham had made his stamp on Giants history with an over-the-shoulder grab in Super Bowl XLVI, but with his contract set to expire, and New York's receiving core occupied by Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, the wideout set off to test the free agent waters.
Manningham wanted a chance to start, to be a team's No. 1 option and also increase his yearly salary. San Francisco offered him a chance to place a check mark next to all three of his requests. As a result, the 49ers and Manningham agreed on a two-year, $7.35 million contract. The Ohio native slid into the starting lineup for a team on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance.
San Francisco thought it had acquired its missing piece, and Manningham thought he found the chance to be a team's go-to guy.
What appeared a dream scenario for for both parties quickly turned into a nightmare. The wideout tore both his PCL and ACL against the Seattle Seahawks late in the 2012 season, landing him on the injured reserve. Manningham finished the season with 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown. The reception, yardage and touchdown mark were his lowest since his rookie year.
Manningham started the 2013 season on the physically unable to perform list, and was activated Nov. 4.
"When I got back, I couldn't do what I wanted to, I knew I needed a little bit more time," Manningham said. "It was frustrating, but it was a learning experience."
After just six games, San Francisco placed Manningham on injured reserve for the second consecutive year. As was the case two years ago, Manningham would once again enter into free agency at season's end, but with much different talk surrounding the 6-foot, 185-pound target.
In 2011, Manningham was considered a budding superstar. Now? He was fresh of two injured-filled years with questions on if he'd ever be the same player that had made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.
"If you're an athlete, you always have a chip on your shoulder," Manningham said. "I talked to a couple people who tore their ACL a couple times who said, 'Man, you're not going to get it back the following year, you're going to get it back the year after that.'
"I'm just trying to do what I can do to make a strong impact and win games."
For Manningham, that opportunity is going back to where his journey first began.