The Manning College Football Dynasty: PART 3 - ELI
By George Somerville
In this series George looks at the impact that the Manning family has had on College football and the Dynasty that Arch Manning joins when he lands in Austin.
Part 3 – Then there was Eli
The Youngest Manning
Five years after Peyton, Eli came along. Eli was the third and youngest son of Archie and Olivia Manning. Interesting fact here is that Eli is actually called after his father, Archie. Archie’s given name is Elisha, however he adopted his middle name Archibald.
And so young Elisha Nelson joined the Manning family, or as the world would call him – Eli Manning joined the family business.
The Louisiana High School football conveyor belt
Like older brothers Cooper and Peyton, Eli attended Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans and soon followed in his brothers footsteps playing football. Like big brother Peyton, Eli quickly favoured the quarterback position.
As we have come to expect from anyone with the surname Manning, Eli impressed greatly at high school. College scouts were soon running after him. Just like his brothers had enjoyed previously.
Peyton had previously alerted the world to how good the next Manning up was, writing “the best is yet to come” in his high school year book. Aged 10 years old, Elisha Manning was already wowing those watching his flag football games.
Bearing in mind how impressive Peyton’s high school records at Isidore were, Eli was only 3 touchdown’s short of matching Peyton’s record. Eli did leave his mark in the history books, overtaking Peyton’s passing record with 7,389 yards.
The race for Eli’s commitment was on.
With Peyton’s “defection” to Knoxville, there was no guarantee or indeed much hope that Eli would follow Archie’s footsteps by committing to Ole Miss.
The interest in Eli was significant and no less chaotic than it had been for Peyton. But the Manning family had the experience from Peyton’s experience five years earlier to draw on.
After a lengthy recruitment process, Eli shortlisted Texas, Virginia and Ole Miss as the schools he would most like to attend.
While Texas, at least to many, appeared favourites to land Manning, Head Coach Mack Brown landed quarterback Chris Simms which put a wrinkle in the process. Virginia were very keen to recruit Manning. However when Ole Miss recruited David Cutcliffe from Tennessee, it was inevitable Eli would commit to the Rebels. With Cutcliffe having recruited Peyton and developed a good relationship with Archie, the bond between the Manning’s and Cutcliffe was very strong.
Earlier in the recruitment process Eli had told Cutcliffe that he did not want to follow his brother to Tennessee and immediately ruled the Vols out. When Ole Miss moved quickly to replace Head Coach Tommy Tuberville with Cutcliffe, Eli Manning’s fate was sealed.
“Well, the first phone call I make is to Eli and I said, ‘All right, Eli, all bets are off. You’re going to Ole Miss,’”
Cutcliffe told the Athletic. Only sixteen days after David Cutcliffe was appointed Head Coach with the Rebels, Eli Manning committed to Ole Miss.
Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty!
Eli Manning joined up with the football team as soon as moving onto campus. He decided not to wear the #18 jersey – like his father or brother – instead opting to wear #10. A sign that Eli wanted to do things his own way.
Like his father Eli started for the Rebels in his Sophomore year. In fact Archie was the first Ole Miss quarterback to ever make his debut in his sophomore year. Eli was next and the Eli Manning phenomenon had begun.
In his first year under centre, the Rebels had a winning 7-4 record. Manning threw for 2,948 yards and 31 touchdown’s with a completion percentage of 63.5%. In 11 games, Manning threw only 9 interceptions.
Hopes in Oxford were getting high.
Independence Bowl success
In his second year as starter Ole Miss had another seven game winning season. This led the Rebels to an Independence Bowl against Nebraska which Ole Miss won 27-23. Eli Manning threw for 313 yards and one touchdown, leading to him being named offensive player of the game.
Over the course of the season, Eli threw for 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns, although his completion rate fell to 58% with 15 interceptions. By this time, the Rebels were playing on a national stage and Manning was considered one of the nation’s best quarterback’s.
As was the case with Archie’s team, Eli’s Rebels were neither successful or fancied. This was not the Ole Miss team we know today. Since 1960, Ole Miss fans had been starved of any real success.
Despite all of this Eli Manning decided to return to Oxford for his senior year. Why?
Eli, proving he was ploughing his own furrow, wanted to achieve something neither Dad, Archie or brother Peyton had achieved – a 10 game winning season.
A Rebel with a cause
Prior to 2003, the last time that Ole Miss had a 10 game winning season was in 1962. The team’s previous 9 win season – prior to Eli’s successful team was at the hands of the first Manning to play in Oxford.
In 2003 Eli Manning had the season his potential and the nation expected.
The Rebels marched to a 10 win season, with Manning cementing his reputation as the #1 draft choice in the 2003 NFL Draft.
In his final season with the Rebels, Eli Manning amassed 3,600 yards with 29 touchdowns. In 2003 Manning only threw 10 interceptions.
As a result the Rebels tied for the SEC West Championship, something not achieved since 1960. Whilst the Rebels would lose a tiebreaker to go to the SEC Championship game they would play in the Cotton Bowl that year, defeating Oklahoma State 31-28.
This appearance was the Rebel’s first NY6 bowl appearance since 1970 and their first appearance in the Cotton Bowl since 1962.
Eli Manning had achieved legendary status in Mississippi.
The Eli Effect
As we already know,Ole Miss retired Archie Manning’s jersey and that the speed limit around the Ole Miss campus is 18 – in tribute to Archie’s #18 jersey.
Equally, Eli’s #10 jersey was retired in 2021 by Ole Miss. And in parallel with Archie, the speed limit on Manning Way was reduced to 10mph in tribute to the Rebel’s new hero.
But the impact that Eli Manning had and continues to have on Oxford is not restricted just to bowl games or speed limits.
Speak to any Oxford resident and they will tell you of the “Eli Boom”. The impact that Eli’s success had on attracting new people to a small Mississippi town.
To put this into perspective, Oxford has a population less than the capacity of Madison Square Garden in New York City. It is idyllic and with Ole Miss on the national stage, the school became more popular to attend and more people wanted to stay post graduation. As a result the town went through a property boom, with house prices rising exponentially. A boom that continues to this day. Much of this economic impact is attributed to the Eli effect.
The Mannings – Archie and Olivia and Eli and his wife, Abby continue to have properties in the area, and live there often. Despite their respective NFL careers taking them to New Orleans and New York City this is a sign that Oxford is a special place.
Eli Manning ended his Ole Miss career with 10,119 passing yards and 81 touchdowns with a total completion % of 60.8%. Eli Manning will go down as the greatest quarterback in Ole Miss history and one of the greatest to grace the SEC.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.