Selected first overall in the NFL Draft and now the owner of two Super Bowl rings, Eli Manning’s career might possess a hint of predestination.
But if John Calvin was in Oxford, Mississippi on November 3, 2001, he’d have a tough time deciding whether the Rebels quarterback was headed for professional salvation or collegiate damnation.
Late in his sophomore year, his first campaign as the Ole Miss starter, Eli Manning tossed for 312 yards and 6 touchdowns in a seven-overtime 58-56 loss to Arkansas.
It was heartbreaking for the Rebels and it ended their dreams of a Cinderella run to the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
Prior to that performance, Eli had been Archie’s son who admirably accepted the demands of playing at his father’s alma mater and Peyton’s less-talented younger brother.
Perhaps even now he’s still both of those things, ever the comparison to a family of winners. But professionally, Eli has a Lombardi Trophy for each arm. He’s accomplished something dad and big brother didn’t and maybe never will, respectively.
Before he was leading the Rebels to a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2003 and earning both the Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards, Manning had to convince Oxford that he wasn’t just a legacy.
As a sophomore, he had Ole Miss in the thick of the SEC West race; a shock considering pre-season prognostications pegged them for the basement.
But even though Eli broke his father’s school-record for touchdown passes that season, he still hadn’t developed the same sort of love affair with the Rebel faithful that Archie conjured.
That is, until he showed them his mettle in a game that lasted over four hours.
On three occasions during the overtime frames, Manning directed an Ole Miss touchdown drive following a Razorback score. On his last passing attempt, a two-point conversion failed and Arkansas prevailed.
Not much is made of that game outside of SEC country because it didn’t happen yesterday and that’s the plight of a what have you done for me lately society.
Eli Manning is a Super Bowl champion, twice over and to many, that must mean he was always destined for NFL stardom.
In 2001, Eli Manning was still Peyton’s brother and Archie’s son without a resume of wins to argue the point.
But on November 3rd, he earned the respect of his campus, his teammates and his conference.
His career on the gridiron started long before that night in Oxford.
However, as a college football fan, that’s when I knew he wasn’t Cooper Manning.
He was a Manning in the mold of his Tennessee brother and his Ole Miss father.
A winner. A gamer. A quarterback without tools that wow you but with a stable of talents to beat you.