June 17, 2006

Archie equally proud of each of his three sons

He set records. He led Ole Miss to exciting football victories. He played professional football, was recognized as one of the best quarterbacks of his era and made a fortune in the process.

And as he looks back on it all, Archie Manning has absolutely no difficulty identifying the best part of his charmed life.

"Being a daddy is the greatest joy I've had in my life," the 57-year-old said. "I've been blessed. A lot of great things have come my way. Olivia and I have been married 35 wonderful years, and to raise and support our sons has just been great."

As a star quarterback at Ole Miss and then with the New Orleans Saints for most of his NFL career, Manning was so adept at producing yardage and touchdowns that he earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame and spots in two Pro Bowls, the NFL's postseason exhibition of its brightest stars.

Yet, Manning was even better at producing sons.

Peyton and Eli were each No. 1 overall picks in the NFL Draft. Peyton was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and Eli was chosen by the San Diego Chargers in 2004 and then traded to the New York Giants.

Peyton is now recognized as one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks, if not the best. Eli isn't too far behind.

Dad is understandably proud of them.

"Football is a crazy game," Archie said. "You go up and down. You feel for them when they lose because you know they're hurt. But we're proud real proud to see the way they handle things and take care of their business."

Archie is equally proud of another son, Cooper, who was unable to pursue a career in the "family business."

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The oldest of the three Manning sons, Cooper was a wide receiver at Ole Miss whose football career was shortened by a spinal condition that caused him to lose feeling in his hands. He responded quite nicely and made his mark in the private sector.

He also further endeared himself to his father and mother by giving them two grandsons and a granddaughter.

"We're just as proud of Cooper as we are of Peyton and Eli," Archie said. "He's our favorite because he's got the grandchildren. He's doing very well and he loves to see the other boys do well."

All are doing so well that Archie stands to make a lucrative haul on Father's Day. That would be welcomed, especially since a more difficult Sunday looms in early September.

Peyton's Colts and Eli's Giants open their seasons playing each other in a matchup that is a little unsettling for dad.

"That's going to create a stir, but we'll get through it," Archie said. "We'll have no favorites in that game. I'm glad they don't play every year."

If that's difficult, imagine the emotional roller coaster the Mannings will ride if the Colts and Giants ever meet in the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl was never within Archie's reach because he had little help on the hapless Saints of the '70s. But even though his sons have been more successful, none of them could run with the football like he did during his scrambling, free-wheeling playing days.

However, all three resembled their father on the field in at least one way. They all wore his familiar No. 18 when they were in high school. Cooper, of course, wore it first and when he and Peyton played on the same team. Peyton wore No. 14, Archie's high school number.

When Cooper left for college, Peyton switched to 18. Then Eli wore it.

Recently, the high school the Manning boys attended in New Orleans celebrated its 100th anniversary. As part of the ceremony it retired their No. 18, just as Ole Miss retired it in tribute to Archie.


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