THE MANNINGS AND THE NFL What makes a great talk-show topic is a dilemma that allows for passion on both sides of the argument. Both views have debatable points. Both will elicit an emotional response. Welcome to the world of the Mannings. In case you've been off the planet, Archie Manning, the patriarch of football's first family, and father of both Peyton and Eli, decided to take on the NFL draft system this past week. He won. Maybe. Eli, the Ole Miss quarterback who was the number-one chosen player in the draft, probably lost. Let's go back aways, into the history of the family. Archie was the first golden-boy signal caller to set foot on the Oxford campus. He set records, and led the Rebels to glory. When he graduated, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. That would seem a perfect fit, considering the geography. But Archie never had much talent surrounding him in the Mardi Gras city, and though he received recognition (not to mention riches), there weren't very many victories. Those losing seasons apparently made a huge impression on Pops. So much so, that when it came time for his second son, Peyton, to go to school, Archie chose the University of Tennessee over his beloved Rebs. Why?? Because, in Knoxville they had a bigger offensive line, quicker receivers, and a lot better odds of winning. Archie wanted his son to have an easier path to succeed. Peyton didn't win a national championship. But the Vols got a bunch of victories, the kid stayed for four years and graduated, and then was the number one player in the draft, going to Indianapolis. Then came Eli's turn. The offensive co-ordinator at Tennessee during Peyton's tenure was David Cutcliffe. You know how life is timing? Just when Eli was picking the college he wanted to attend, Cutcliffe was chosen as the head coach of Ole Miss. Buddy Guy wouldn't have drummed the beat as perfectly as Cutcliffe did. Pops already had a relationship with the new head coach, and the decision was made that this son would follow in dad's footsteps. Eli didn't win a national championship. But the Rebels got a bunch of victories, the kid stayed for four years and graduated, and then was the number one player chosen in the draft. You'd think that maybe Archie would have learned something here. While neither sibling won a national title, both achieved athleticaly and personally. Both got degrees. Both enjoyed their college days. Even though one had a much tougher path to follow, they both ended up in the same place. Some lessons are hard to grasp, especially when it involves your own flesh and blood. When the Indianapolis Colts chose Peyton, Pops liked the fit. He liked the organization. He loved the stout offensive line that would protect his kid. When it was Eli's turn to be the top pick, the organization that lay in waiting was the San Diego Chargers. This team did not fit Archie's expectations. He didn't think much of their managerial direction. He worried about their porous offensive line and the health of his youngest kid. One of the reasons the NFL has become our national pastime is its competitive balance. Each year, the weakest teams draft first, getting the best young talent to help rebuild their squads for the future. Archie is well aware of this system. He remembers those playing days in New Orleans. The wins were rare, the physical beatings came with regularity. In fact, every Sunday afternoon. He just didn't want that for his kid. So, he told the Chargers to take a hike. Either trade the Rebel, or be prepared to be without your first-round pick. No matter what, Eli was NOT coming! Who could blame Pops for that sentiment? Wouldn't you want the very best for your kid? But here's what Archie forgot. As a player, he made it through with flying colors. He survived to be a success in the next phase of his life. He has no money worries, the system saw to that. And he gained the love and affection of an entire community in the place he still calls home. Many will look back on this draft and recall how the Mannings stood their ground and won the battle. Oh yeah, the Chargers did draft Eli, but only to trade him to the New York Giants for a ransom. So Eli will be headlining on Broadway, instead of soaking up the rays at the beach. However, there was a price. First, there's the image of the first family of football. Across the country, the perception that prevails is that the Mannings thought they were too good for the rules. Secondly, the pressure they just placed on Eli's shoulders will be very heavy. Last year''s starting quarterback at New York, Kerry Collins, has said he will be leaving. In the Big Apple, there are no excuses, only results. Can a rookie come in and turn around a team that lost every game the last half of this past season? Archie Manning only wanted what was best for his kid. A truly noble notion. But in the process of getting what he wanted, Archie undermined a league, and underestimated his own child. And unfortunately, that's what we'll be talking about for a long time to come. (Dave Wolshin is sports director for WMC Radio, and the "Voice" of the University of Memphis football and basketball Tigers. You can listen to Dave, weekdays from 4:00 to 6:30 pm on SportsPlus 790-WMC.)


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