When Eli Manning made the decision to attend the University of Mississippi, his father, Archie, who was a quarterback legend at the school 30 years ago, was concerned, understandably so.
“I had big worries,” Archie said. “Not so much of him, but of the expectations. He was a little, skinny 17-year-old going up there into that.”
Worries? What worries? All Eli did was throw five touchdown passes in his first start at Ole Miss and complete 18 consecutive passes (a school record) and the weight of those expectations didn’t seem so overwhelming.
“It never bothered me when I was thinking of schools that this is where my father went or that it would be too much pressure,” Eli told Clay Chandler of the Daily Mississippian. “It was so long ago and the students here might know the name, but they weren’t here then. They wouldn’t know what he did for Old Miss.
“Once I got here, it wasn’t a big issue,” he said. “It hasn’t been a problem in any way.”
Clearly, it didn’t bother Eli at all. He established 45 school records in his career, breaking many of Archie’s marks, and he led Ole Miss to a 10-3 finish in 2003, the school’s first 10-win season since 1971. His final game was a 31-28 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, the Rebels’ first January victory since his father led Ole Miss past Arkansas, 27-22, in the 1970 Sugar Bowl.
Eli finished his senior season with 3,600 passing yards and 29 touchdowns while earning the 67th Maxwell Award as the outstanding player in college football. Peyton Manning won the award in 1997, making them the first brother combination to share the honor.
“Everything about this year has been great,” Eli said. “It’s been a great run, it’s been a fun ride.”
Manning could have left school following the 2002 season and entered the NFL draft, where he surely would have been a high pick, but he chose to return to Mississippi and play his final season. He completed his course work and received his degree last month.
“Eli has demonstrated time and time again that he is not only a great player, but he is the epitome of what college football is all about,” said David Cutcliffe, Mississippi’s head coach. “Every goal he has set has been team-oriented. He’s consistently shown that he’s not just hype. It doesn’t matter what his last name is, he’s a great football player.”
Wrote Clay Chandler: “(Eli) has secured a legacy that’s at least equal to that of his father.”
In the annals of Ole Miss football, that’s saying a great deal, indeed.