Eli's headed to the Super Bowl four years to the month after his last Ole Miss game. My, my. This story, the one that never ends, has so much to offer.
This story began for most back in the Mississippi Delta with Eli's dad being a pretty good high school quarterback at Drew. Under-noticed but getting a few offers. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tulane. Maybe a sifting of others.
Nobody could have predicted 40 years later this thing would still be rolling along like ole man river surely to the sea. Past New Orleans, of course, where much of this story has its life.
There are so many things I personally recall, as do all of you. If you're under say early 30s, it's about Eli and Peyton. For those older than that by a few years, you can throw in Archie's story. For we were all in his Army, and still are. I've still got the buttons to prove it.
I mean, really. If you're an Ole Miss person, this story is unreal. I've been blessed, as all of you have, to be a part of its never-ending life.
I was a kid and really don't remember anything about the game when my parents took me to the Sugar Bowl Archie's junior year. Except that the Rebels won and Archie was the MVP. Sat in old Tulane Stadium long since torn down, and what a historic place that was. It's where Archie would spend many a painful Sunday afternoon in the years ahead. It's why I became a Saints fan and although I never felt physical pain in that regard, pain enough because of my choice.
I probably should have been a Giants fan, like my dad, because so many Ole Miss players became Giants. He didn't live and die with them, just followed them over the years, especially years ago. More Rebels have become Saints than any other team in the NFL but one – the New York Giants.
Like many of you, I remember when the oldest son, Cooper, signed with Ole Miss. Another Manning on campus. Two more on the way. Life was good.
I remember the devastation for so many, and certainly for his family, when Cooper couldn't play football anymore. I don't want him to be lost in this story. He's one of us and an important part of all this.
I'll never forget the words of Peyton's high school coach, Tony Reginelli, as we interviewed him at Newman School in New Orleans the morning Peyton said no to Ole Miss and yes to Tennessee. I tried to hide my disappointment that day through some semblance of professionalism.
Tell all the Ole Miss folks to handle this thing and watch out how they react, Reginelli, a Mississippi Delta native himself, told us emphatically in those words or some just about like them. His little brother down in junior high may just turn out to be better than he is, he said.
I know Peyton felt his best opportunities in football at the time were at Tennessee. It's why he went there. I still recall the words I heard Peyton say to a group of us at SEC Media Days in Birmingham prior to his senior year at UT when asked if he'd have gone to Ole Miss had Cooper been able to catch passes from him if only for a season or two.
Yes, he said to 30 or 40 reporters gathered ‘round the table. Yes, I would have gone to Ole Miss.
There was some debate as to whether Eli would go to Ole Miss or Texas or Virginia. The list was longer than that. Who didn't want him? Maybe State since they knew there was no chance at this sure to be superstar.
We were headed to Kentucky in September of Eli's sophomore season. It was the first game for Ole Miss after 9-11.
Boys, Chuck said as we motored up I-40 somewhere in middle Tennessee, tell you one thing. I'm not gonna miss a snap of this quarterback's career at Ole Miss.
Like Chuck's ever missed a snap at Ole Miss. But I knew what he meant. This was a special signal caller wearing red and blue.
Maybe the most amazing aspects of all this are the parents. That Archie and Olivia, the former homecoming queen at Ole Miss, have two Super Bowl quarterback sons is unprecedented. Maybe unfathomable when you throw in that they are in back to back seasons.
When Archie played at Ole Miss, the media coverage was so different. A lot less of it for sure. Newspapers ruled the day, and there were the national magazines, which Archie graced the cover of often his final couple of seasons in college.
And TV sports were limited to five minutes on the 6 and 10 o'clock news and usually just one televised game on Saturday. And a 30-minute wrapup on ABC on Sunday afternoons with highlights of five or six of the most important games from the day before. And that was about it.
Yet he became a household name across the country, as prominent a figure in college football as there'd ever been.
Archie "Super Man-ning" was the cry. But there was never a Super Bowl during his NFL years. Not even a winning season with the Saints, the old Houston Oilers, or the Vikings.
But there is now. This year and last year. Archie probably doesn't even think about the days when he never made it to the NFL postseason. This all feels too good to worry about what might have been.
You know the Mannings are enjoying this ride to the fullest. Heck, we all should be. There's enough of this unusual and never-ending story to go around for all of us. It's our story, too.
Certainly there's never been another one like it in football. And its roots are right here as well as its branches.
A new chapter in the never-ending story
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