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Rebel great Manning discusses past, present

Archie Manning
Archie Manning

The last time No. 4 Mississippi was ranked this high, Archie Manning was a senior quarterback for the Rebels in 1970.

Manning, the father of famous NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli, talked about Ole Miss and South Carolina this week.

Q: You were ranked No. 4 during your senior year. Is it surprising it’s been that long?

A: Well, it’s a tough conference. Coach (John) Vaught’s teams were right in there for a long time. Then things just kind of changed in Mississippi. It seemed like Ole Miss and (Mississippi) State just kind of walked around in mediocrity. There would be a little surge. But it seems like the schools in the conference got bigger, the athletic budgets got bigger. And Ole Miss and State were just splitting up the state. It’s a tough league. You know, I think Arkansas and South Carolina have found that out.

Q: You were No. 4 for one week then lost at home to unranked Southern Miss. Do you recall what went wrong that game?

A: I think the year before we beat Southern 69-7. They weren’t that bad. Southern was always physical. Coach Vaught tried to warn us. (Southern Miss) just played hard. We woke up too late. They wanted it more.

Q: You don’t live in Oxford, but what kind of feeling do you get for what it’s like around there these days?

A: Everybody’s so excited. I keep up. I have a place there. Everybody’s excited. We’ve had some encouraging times, Billy Brewer one year. We had a really good defense when Joe Lee Dunn was there. Then when Eli was there we had a pretty good run. And the way (coach) Houston (Nutt) finished the year last year and we had a young quarterback, people are just excited.

Although most people are like me: They realize we play in a tough conference. I think one reason we were picked so high is we finished so strong. We have a lot of people back, and they look at the schedule and we've got Alabama and LSU and Tennessee at home. I think it became kind of a status thing to do to pick Ole Miss in the West. I told people it's good to have them at home, but it's still Alabama and it's still LSU. I think our first 20 or 22 (players) can play with folks. But I'm not sure we're as deep as them. But I also said don't look ahead to Alabama. I think this is a really scary game Thursday.

Q: Have you had a chance to see South Carolina? What do you think of this matchup?

A: I saw a little bit. I didn't see a complete game. I know some people have moved and scored on them. But they sprung a couple running backs last week. The quarterback is capable. Any time Steve is calling the plays, you've got a chance to score some points.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with Steve Spurrier?

A: I've always considered Steve a friend. He's a little older than me. We missed each other in college. When I got into pro ball, Steve was the backup with the 49ers, so we played them twice a year. Then I just followed him when he went into coaching. Then I'd run into Steve at a golf tournament or this and that. Then he recruited Peyton.

I think he was one of (his wife) Olivia's favorite coaches in recruiting. She never liked coaches to call her Mrs. Manning. And Steve always called her Olivia. She liked that. I thought Peyton would go to Florida, just the way they were throwing the football around, and I think that's what he wanted. But as it went down, I think Tennessee did a really good job (recruiting him).

Q: Your family was close with David Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator when Peyton was at Tennessee and then Eli's coach at Mississippi? How did you feel about him being let go?

A: Our family was close to Cut. ... I've never seen an assistant and a player as close as Cut and Peyton were. I thought he was getting Ole Miss pointed in the right way. So I was real disappointed that he was fired after one bad year. I said in my statement that I was embarrassed. And I was.

Q: Now, with the Rebels' success, was it as simple as Ed Orgeron's recruits plus Houston Nutt's coaching?

A: It looks like it. I don't think any of us knew Ed was recruiting that well because we couldn't beat anybody. I knew they recruited hard. God dog, he was wearing his coaches out. ... Houston's just a good football coach.

Q: How close are you with the program now?

A: I try to stay close. I really like Houston, and we talk. I don't get to as many games as we'd like, but I get up to three. Eli and Abby, his new bride, built their new home in Oxford. ... I love my school and love to be up there. It's such a neat town.

Q: The speed limit on Ole Miss' campus is 18 miles an hour in your honor. Have you ever been pulled over?

A: (Laughs). No, but I think about it when I'm up there. I truly do. People make a big deal out of that, that it's going to be pretty funny if I get caught there. But I did, the morning after the Super Bowl, get a bunch of calls from people there saying they were going to change it to 10 miles per hour because of Eli's number.

Q: Do you still pinch yourself about the success of your sons?

A: Absolutely. I don't like the perception of people who just assume that this is one of these planned things since kindergarten where I'm trying to mold these kids into quarterbacks. It wasn't. We were just trying to raise kids. They didn't go to a high school football power. They just went to a small private school. But they just liked football.

Q: So you think Ole Miss and their fans are amped up for this game?

A: Oh, yeah. I'm almost positive Houston's got the guys in the right (state of) mind. It's not like Ole Miss players are walking around saying, 'We're the No. 4 team in the country.' I think the fans are happy. But I think they recognize what kind of conference we play in. I think 90 percent of the people are just like me - they're scared to death of this game.