(From today's Times and News-Star. Photo from the Sports Illustrated archives, 1981: Olivia, Eli, Archie, Peyton, Cooper)
If you’ve ever met him, you’d agree that it’s hard to believe the approachable Archie Manning, The Greatest Saint of Them All, would be anybody’s third favorite person, much less anybody’s third-favorite Manning.
But so it goes in the National Football League, where you’re only as good as your last child.
Archie’s happens to be Eli. By now everybody knows Eli. Certainly everybody in my mother’s West Monroe Sunday school class does, because he’s been on their prayer list since he quarterbacked at Ole Miss.
“Well,” momma says, “he’s the baby, you know…”
You cannot live in this part of the world and not know about the Mannings. You can’t live in this hemisphere and not know about the Mannings, the First Family of Football and all that.
Archie and Olivia, the parents. (One quarterbacked at Ole Miss, the other was a Homecoming queen. This pairing might represent Mississippi’s finest hour.) Cooper is the oldest boy, his football career – but not his humor – sidelined by injury. Then there’s Peyton, multi-time NFL MVP.
And then there’s “the baby,” quarterback for the New York Football Giants in today’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, or, as they’re called in my mom’s Sunday school class, “the Evil Empire.”
It’s no secret how much momma loves football. It’s natural she would gravitate to the Mannings, who are Southern and possibly even Baptist. And good at playing quarterback.
Peyton has long been her favorite Manning child; she has a jersey she wears and a life-sized poster she pulls out for Colts games on television – and a little Peyton football doll I gave her one Christmas. (She wept.) But she started liking Eli a lot because she’s a mother and she doesn’t like to see the baby get pushed around, and she doesn’t like to see Olivia’s face when they show it on television right after Eli gets put on his back.
Eli doesn’t worry about it, but you can’t tell by his face because he always looks a bit puzzled, semi-aggravated, that things didn’t go just right. But he’s used to being knocked down. The thing is, none of this matters when you are a mom. That’s how moms are.
So with Peyton injured and sidelined all season, you’d think momma would have had an easy year. Negative. She’s had to pray for Peyton to heal up, for the Colts to get their act together, AND for Eli. Never was the road longer than in November when the Giants lost four in a row. Momma had to kick it up a notch. The only thing that lightened the load was West Monroe winning the 5A state title; she was able to scratch the Rebels off her list by mid-December.
So far, so good. The Giants could become Super Bowl champs, despite only 9 regular-season wins. In momma’s world, the object of her affection has completed 64 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. Somebody, either momma or Eli or the good Lord, is hot as a firecracker.
I’m not saying Heaven has a rooting interest in today’s Super Bowl, surely not in the way that we do. And I’m not saying my mother loves Peyton or Eli Manning more than she loves me. I’m mean, if the three of us were drowning and she could throw just one of us the rope, I know who she’d throw it to.
What I AM saying is that she’d have to stop and think about it for a minute.
Eli and Momma 28, Patriots 27. (I pray…)