Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
If Archie Manning's goal was to take the spotlight off his son, the move backfired Wednesday at SEC Media Days. Eli Manning took the podium with the fanfare usually reserved for a rock star or a lottery winner, cameras flashing and the ballroom packed. This was the most wanted player for interviews this week and he was peppered with Heisman questions.
Because, of course, Daddy Manning decided a couple of weeks ago that Ole Miss should not launch any kind of a Heisman Trophy campaign for Eli this season. The story was a big one nationally, although Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said it was "overblown."
Overblown? His name is Manning. Nothing can be overblown.
It's understandable that Archie would want to save his youngest son from the Heisman hype. He saw what it did to Peyton, who finished second to Charles Woodson in 1997. The Manning family is still bitter, not so much that Peyton didn't win as much as the cheap shots directed at him and they know the toll that constant questions can take on a college quarterback.
"It was hard on him," said Eli. "It made his senior season not so much fun as it should have been."
There could also be this hidden agenda: Why expose Eli to the hoopla surrounding a Hesiman candidacy when he has no chance of winning the award?
Sorry, Archie and Olivia, but there won't be a stiff-arm in the family trophy case at the end of this season either. The Heisman - right or wrong - is reserved for the best players on the best teams. Unless Cutcliffe can trade for the 2000 Ravens defense, Mississippi won't be among the nation's elite.
Trust me, you'll see Manning put up some big numbers. His best receivers are back and the offensive line is one of the SEC's best. But the schedule works against him and certainly against the Rebels. Ole Miss closes with games at Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU, plus home games against Auburn and Mississippi State.
They don't give Heismans to quarterbacks on 8-4 or 7-5 teams.
So why open yourself up to disappointment?
"There's no reason to get your hopes up high," Manning said. "It's not like you're playing to win the Heisman. It puts too much pressure on you. It's not fair to deal with that kind of stuff.
"I wouldn't turn it down. It's an honor just to be a candidate. We just don't want anybody running a campaign. It's not even August yet."
He is quick to point out that he has started only 11 games, a babe experience-wise. Also remember that the best quarterback in the conference plays in Gainesville. It's difficult to win a Heisman if you aren't all-conference.
Certainly, the opportunity will be there, especially with a matchup against Rex Grossman scheduled for Oct. 5 in Oxford.
And Manning put up Heisman-like numbers a year ago - 2,948 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. He has the pedigree and the advantage that few quarterbacks have in a father and a brother whose advice comes from years of experience.
"He has a little different tempo than Peyton," said Cutcliffe, who was Tennessee's offensive coordinator when Peyton was the Vols' quarterback.
"Other than that, he's like a clone of Peyton. Peyton was at one of our spring practices and he said he had an out of body experience. It was like watching himself play."
Peyton has drilled his younger brother in fundamentals, the same ones Cutcliffe taught him in Knoxville. I wonder if he also taught him happy feet and that martini shake with the ball.
"He's capable of doing the same things that Peyton did," Cutcliffe said. "He just hasn't done them yet."
Therein lies the rub. Part of being Eli Manning is the comparisons to his brother. They are of similar build, especially now that Eli has gained 15 pounds after wearing out down the stretch a year ago. They look alike, they walk alike, at times they even pitch it around alike.
Eli said he wouldn't have it any other way, that he doesn't mind being named Manning instead of Smith. He sees it as an advantage instead of a burden.
In reality, the Manning name might work in his favor some day instead of against him the way it did with his older brother. Voters who did not pick Peyton in '97 because of a Manning backlash might feel like voting for Eli would be a mulligan.
But not this year. Not with a team hoping to just make it to a bowl game. Forget the Heisman talk.
Which would make Archie happy.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 374-5053.
DOOLEY on Page 6C
Continued from 1C
DOOLEY: Eli will have his day
NYT Regional Newspapers
Part of being Ole Miss QB Eli Manning is the comparisons to his brother Peyton.
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