Eli Manning, Oxford resident, New Orleans native, son of Ole Miss, and his team, the New York Giants, will meet the New England Patriots and their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, in the Super Bowl.
In Indianapolis. Brother Peyton’s place.
It worked out for Eli the first time these two met in the Super Bowl four years ago. His Giants team won and he was named Most Valuable Player.
During his college years, he had been able to lift the Ole Miss football program to heights not seen since his dad had played 30 years earlier.
In New York, he had taken the Giants all the way to the mountaintop.
Today, he tries again, and it’s New England that once again stands in the way.
I was in New Orleans the last Monday in November this season for the Saints-Giants game. It was ugly for New York. The Giants were basically never in it, and New Orleans rolled 49-24.
After the game the New York media posed some tough questions. One asked Giants head coach Tom Coughlin what was wrong with his team.
“This is supposed to be a contender,” the reporter said.
Coughlin wasn’t necessarily at a loss for words. And he handled such tough questions gracefully. I’m sure he’s used to it.
It was even hard to tell if Coughlin thought the Giants, who had started the season 6-2 but were at that point 6-5, could turn it back around or if they were doomed.
Eli had a good game, completing 21 straight passes during one stretch. He finished the game 33 of 47 for 406 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
And another loss.
The next week was a 38-35 setback at home to Green Bay. At 6-6, the Giants saved their season with a 37-34 win at Dallas. The next week, however, they stumbled against the Redskins for the second time this season, but finished with wins against the Jets and the Cowboys, both games played in New York.
Then came the playoffs – a win at home against the Falcons for starters. Then, where the Giants seem most comfortable, it was two road wins – at Green Bay and at San Francisco.
And now it’s fellow Ole Miss alum BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Patriots that stand between Eli and sports immortality.
Every time I marvel at what Eli continues to do, his status in sports, his accomplishments in the game, I think back to that January day in 1994 and the words of Peyton’s high school coach at Newman School in New Orleans.
I was covering Peyton’s decision for The Oxford Eagle that day. He’d narrowed it down to Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida, and Michigan. On WWL AM 870 radio prior to the start of school that morning, it was revealed that Archie had called the powerful station to inform them of Peyton’s choice.
Nowadays Archie would probably tweet it out. We didn’t even have a cell phone back then to call the news in to Oxford. We found the nearest pay phone (remember those?) and called north Mississippi after we heard this exchange on the radio.
“Where’s he going?” asked one of the morning talk show hosts.
“Guess,” said the other.
And with that, we headed off to Newman and found legendary coach Tony Reginelli. A native Mississippian, from Shaw in the Delta, Reginelli knew Peyton’s decision to play for the Volunteers wouldn’t go over well in the Magnolia State. At least not to those who cheer for the Rebels.
Tell Ole Miss fans to handle this decision with care, he said.
But Reginelli added something even more noteworthy.
Because, he told us, his younger brother down in junior high may turn out to be the best of them all.
In December, 1998, after his senior year of football at Newman, and with Texas and Virginia reportedly among his finalists, “Easy” put on an Ole Miss cap and said he would wear the Red and Blue of the Rebels – like his dad, Archie, and oldest brother, Cooper, had done before him.
Today, with the whole world watching, Tony Reginelli's prediction may be proven more right than perhaps even he could have ever imagined.