New Orleans has been a Manning town for 40 years, since Archie Manning joined the Saints as a first-round draft choice in 1971. Although the Saints never had a winning record before he departed in 1982, Manning is one of the Crescent City’s most popular residents and with his wife Olivia and sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli, its most famous family.
The boys spent many childhood afternoons attending games in what is now called the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. On Monday night, Eli will play there for the second time as a professional when the 6-4 Giants visit the 7-3 Saints.
“It is a special place,”
Manning’s first visit with the Giants is not an occasion he recalls fondly. On Oct. 18, 2009, a 5-0 Giants team stormed into the Superdome, fell behind 20-3 and 41-17 and eventually lost, 48-27, as 70,011 fans created a din that could probably be heard in Mississippi. Manning completed only 14 of 31 passes for 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
That frenzied crowd, and a Saints squad that is 4-0 at home this season, make New Orleans one of the NFL’s least hospitable venues for a visitor – even a native son like Manning.
“We know the Saints are a very good home team,” Manning said. “It’s a loud stadium, so it will be loud. We have to try our best to communicate well, try not to let their crowd get into the game. We can try to start fast and move the ball and don’t give up big plays to their defense (that) should always help the occasion. It’s just about being consistent. Honestly, if we’re making calls, everyone communicates and not having false starts, things like that where you’re going backwards and getting the crowd pumped up.”
For the second time in four games, Manning will face a team whose quarterback is also a former Super Bowl MVP. On Nov. 6, he threw a touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining to lift the Giants past Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 24-20. His adversary on Monday will be Drew Brees, who led the Saints to victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV two years ago. Brees is having an extraordinary statistical season, leading the NFL in attempts, completions and passing yards. And while he is enormously well-liked through Saints nation, he believes New Orleans is still very much Manning country.
“When I first got to town you learn very quickly that this is the city that the Mannings are from,” Brees said. “Archie, obviously having played here and lived here ever since and being very involved with the community and Eli and Peyton both, with everything that they’ve accomplished, people definitely take a lot of pride in saying those guys are from New Orleans.”
Archie still reserves a place in his heart for the Saints and he was pleased when Brees and Coach Sean Payton helped reverse the Saints’ fortunes – and also the city’s after the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Archie Manning and Brees developed a friendship. But blood is thicker than gumbo and it cooled when the Saints played Peyton Manning’s Colts in the Super Bowl.
“Archie will text me every now and then just to check in and say hello and wish me luck and that kind of thing,” Brees said. “He’s always been very nice and always there if I need anything, the whole family. Cooper Manning, the other brother, and his wife Ellen and three kids live like two minutes away from where we live, so we’ll see them every now and then. It’s always good hanging out with them or catching up.
“The funny story is that back when we played the Giants in 2006, which was my first year here in New Orleans, Archie would text me every Saturday before each game. Like I said, just really trying to reach out and make sure that I knew that he was thinking about me, thinking about (the team) and wishing us luck and that kind of thing. He would always say, ‘Good luck, go get them’ and that kind of stuff. When we played Eli I was wondering if he was going to text me or what he was going to say. So he texted me before we played the Giants, this was Christmas Eve in ’06, up there in New York. And his text was, ‘You’re on your own this week, buddy.’ It was kind of funny. But Archie has always been great.”
Because NFL quarterbacks have a fraternity all their own, Brees also knows Eli Manning.
“Whenever I see Eli, like at the Pro Bowl a few years ago or I saw him at a golf tournament out here one time - we’ll see each other maybe a couple of times a year just at different events and stuff - it’s obviously very cordial,” Brees said. “I have a lot of respect for Eli and what he’s been able to accomplish. I think that all quarterbacks kind of have this relationship, just because you know what each one of us goes through and you all kind of get together. I guess when we’re around each other everything’s fine. I don’t text or call Eli all of the time or anything, but I definitely have respect for him and consider him a friend.”
Manning is also having an outstanding season, with a career-high passer rating of 94.7, an NFL-best fourth-quarter rating of 120.5 and five games in which he has led the Giants from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie to a victory.
“I would definitely say that I have seen a progression in his play,” Payton said. “Clearly, he is one of the leaders of that team and I think that he is having an outstanding season, especially because statistically they haven’t had the success running the football that they have had. Two big allies to the quarterback are good defense and the ability to run the football. What has been impressive about his season to date is despite them not having the same numbers that they would like (running the ball), he has been very consistent and very productive and a big reason why they are having success this year. He is having a fantastic season.”
But to Manning it’s not good enough, because the Giants haven’t won more games. In the last two weeks, they were within striking distance of tying the game late in the fourth quarter. But a fourth-down pass that was batted down and a first-down fumble doomed them to losses to San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Now they play a Saints team that has won its last two games, is well-rested after a bye and has the support of arguably the NFL’s loudest crowd.
“It is going to be loud and our communication in the huddle, everybody has to hear our calls that we are making,” Manning said. “We can’t let that be a distraction and keeping it from letting us do our job.
“We just have to concentrate on having our game plan and being focused and go in there and try to execute to our ability. We know the Saints are a talented offense, but we feel good that our defense is up to that challenge and we have to be prepared and focused on doing our job and getting ready for their defense and can’t worry about the other factors until game time.”
If the Giants can meet those objectives, Eli and the Giants could again make New Orleans a Manning town on Monday night.
*Bill Parcells, who coached the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XXI and XXV, and George Young, the general manager who built those teams, are among the 26 semifinalists being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012.
Parcells coached the Giants from 1983-90 and also coached the New England Patriots, the Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. He is 10th in NFL history with 183 regular season and postseason victories, including 77 in the regular season and eight in the postseason with the Giants.
Although technically a first-year eligible Hall of Fame candidate, Parcells has been a finalist twice before (2001, 2002) following his announced retirement as head coach of the Jets in 1999. At the time, the Hall of Fame By-laws did not require a coach to be retired the now mandatory five seasons. Parcells returned to coach the Cowboys in 2003 and the five-year waiting period was in effect when he retired from coaching in 2006.
Young was the Giants’ general manager from 1979-97. Under his watch, the Giants acquired many of the finest players in their history, including Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro, Carl Banks and Jessie Armstead. Young was named NFL Executive of the Year five times.
After leaving the Giants, Young worked in the NFL office until his death on Dec. 8, 2001.