Just because Vince Lombardi liked to say, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” doesn’t make it so. For starters, Lombardi never lost anything in New Orleans — not even a game.
But Archie Manning did: over and over, just about every way imaginable and nearly 100 times while wearing the fleur-de-lis of the Saints for 11 of his 13 NFL seasons. And then, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he nearly lost his hometown. Yet just try to find someone who’s led a more charmed life.
Manning is still married to the homecoming queen he swept off her feet at Ole Miss more than four decades ago (1970), when he came calling as the star quarterback. He’s made plenty of money since, lost none of his charisma, only so much of his hair and at age 60, remains within an enviable few pounds of his playing weight.
Better still, Manning found a way to ease any lingering hurts from all that losing. Beginning this week, for the third time in the last four years — and the second time courtesy of middle son Peyton — people are going to fuss over Archie at the Super Bowl.
“I never got close to it, certainly,” he said, referring to his playing days, “so maybe there’s justice there.”
Or maybe not. Because the team waiting for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts is the same franchise Archie toiled for, his sons grew up rooting for, and no one in town for most of its existence ever really expected would amount to much.
But that was before the Saints got serious and after they nearly got washed away with the rest of New Orleans. As a result, next weekend, they’ll be the last team standing in the way of a third Super Bowl for the Manning clan.
Few people can better appreciate what the team’s rise means to that town than the Manning patriarch. Even so, Archie won’t pretend choosing sides was tough.
“I’m a hundred percent on that, 100 percent,” he said softly last weekend, standing outside a celebrating Colts locker room after their AFC championship win over the Jets. “It’s not close.”
Just a few steps away, Archie and Olivia’s youngest son, Eli, was looking on. Only two years ago, as quarterback of the New York Giants, he orchestrated perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the NFL’s biggest game when he led his team to a stunning 17-14 win over the undefeated New England Patriots.
But when Archie was asked whether Eli’s first Super Bowl visit started a fire under his hypercompetitive brother, he ducked the question.
“I don’t go there. I knew I was going to get that question,” he said. “I don’t want to sound greedy. I’m a parent.”