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'We Want Arch': The Latest Chapter in the Manning Legacy at Ole Miss

Like years past, there are an assortment of programs vying for the attention of a kid named Manning, and this is a road that Ole Miss has traveled before.

On the campus of the University of Mississippi, you can drive your vehicle one of two speeds: 18 or 10 mph.

These unique numbers are not indicative of some form of state legislation. It's much bigger than that. They're indicative of football.

The No. 18 and 10 were worn by Archie and Eli Manning, respectively, in their football careers at Ole Miss, and the two most storied quarterbacks in school history have been immortalized in the fabric of the campus, both figuratively and literally. Everywhere you look, you see a green sign emblazoned "SPEED LIMIT 18" that reminds visitors and alums alike that the "First Family of Football" got its start in Oxford.

Now, the Ole Miss football program is courting the latest member of this football royal family, and his name, fittingly, is Arch.

'The Past is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past.'

What were you doing at the age of 18?

For the vast majority of the adult population in America, that time of life is synonymous with high school graduations, career paths and college choices. For most straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood, that is a stressful age in some aspects, an exciting age in another.

For Arch Manning, that precedent is magnified to the extreme.

Manning comes from a long bloodline of quarterbacking excellence beginning with his grandfather Archie. A high school football star out of the nondescript town of Drew, Mississippi, Archie quickly rose to fame in his native state and beyond when he became the quarterback for the Ole Miss Rebels in the late 1960s. During that decade, playing for Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss was equated with trips to the Sugar Bowl, the crowning jewel for SEC programs at the time.

Archie Manning

Archie Manning

A kid from the Mississippi Delta who had a knack for scampering around defenses both through the air and on the ground was an instant hit in the Magnolia State, and Archie, although it was less-storied than his collegiate career, found himself in the NFL after his time in Oxford was concluded.

The Mannings eventually settled in New Orleans, the home of the New Orleans Saints where Archie played for over a decade, the vast majority of his professional career. Where the Mannings are almost gods in Mississippi, they've reached a similar status in the Big Easy over the years, and the family still calls that city home.

Eli Manning

Eli Manning

The athletic prowess in that family didn't end with Archie, however. He had three sons: Cooper, Peyton and Eli, the eldest and youngest of whom went to Ole Miss as well. Peyton opted on staying in the SEC a few hours north in Knoxville, Tennessee, much to the chagrin of Rebel fans at the time, and that is a fate they hope to avoid in the wooing of this newest Manning in the coming months.

Peyton and Eli went on to have storied NFL careers, winning a combined four Super Bowls, and Eli's No. 10 jersey was retired at Ole Miss in the 2021 season in a game against rival LSU.

Where the Mannings are concerned, Ole Miss fans grip their legacy as tightly as a life raft thrown about at sea. In the midst of a rollercoaster ride of relative ambiguity and NCAA sanctions in the modern era (with a few stretches of prominent success thrown in for good measure), Ole Miss will always be able to claim the Manning family--a group almost always perceived as royalty in the world of football. The street "Manning Way" that encompasses the football facilities is even named in the family's honor.

Now, a new iteration of this name has emerged in New Orleans, and the Ole Miss faithful are holding on tight once again as another Manning prodigy is courted by programs across the country.

As Oxford's William Faulkner aptly put it, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Ole Miss fans still wrestle with the ghosts both good and bad that have come from the name Manning. Archie and Eli became the best father-and-son duo in the school's history over their football careers, but their hearts were broken when Archie's middle son Peyton chose to suit up for another school in the conference.

Now, like a fork in the road, Ole Miss fans know that they will likely relive one of these realities in the near future.

"The past is never dead," after all.

The Heir to the Manning Throne?

Arch Manning isn't old enough to remember his Uncle Eli's tenure at Ole Miss. The youngest of Archie's sons finished his Rebel career with the 2003 football season, and Arch came into the world in 2004. That doesn't mean he hasn't grown up with that legacy surrounding him, however.

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Football means Manning, and Manning means football. As the young Arch turned into a talented quarterback himself, he undoubtedly heard the comparisons to his grandfather and uncles regularly.

It's human nature. If your family is known for being good car mechanics, and that same talent is seen in you, that comparison is made time and time again. Football is no different. If your dad was good at football, people expect you to be too. If you are good, comparisons are made. Lines are drawn. It's difficult to escape.

Arch

Arch Manning

Akin to a royal wedding or the birth of a new prince, the recruiting news cycle surrounding a talented prospect never ceases during this digital age. Throw in the fact that this talented prospect bears the same name as one of football's greatest lineages, and you have a proverbial media zoo on your hands.

Media and fans alike eat up any and everything having to do with the Mannings. ESPN even made a special telecast of Monday Night Football for brothers Peyton and Eli this season, and it was a resounding hit. As rabid college fan bases stay locked in to message boards and airplane flight patterns to track the ebbs and flows of the recruiting tide, it's easy to forget that these kids are just that--kids. They have lives, friends and family members like the rest of us.

The same can be said for the Royal Family across the pond, however.

As the heir-apparent to the Manning throne, Arch has received plenty of publicity throughout his high school career at Isidore Newman (New Orleans), but this is only the beginning. The sought-after quarterback has one final season to play in New Orleans before he suits up for his college of choice in 2023, and the eyes of the college football world are on him day and night.

Where will the newest member of Manning royalty choose to further his career?

The Past Meets the Present

Eli Manning's jersey number was retired at Ole Miss this season on Oct. 23 in a Rebel win over LSU. That day, the end zones bore his name "MANNING" in boldface across each end of the field. 

While this was certainly a homage to one of the all-time greats to put on pads in Oxford, there was symbolism in this gesture as well.

Arch Manning was in attendance that day watching his uncle receive another honor from his alma mater in front of a sellout crowd. As one Manning exits stage right, another one is preparing to begin his journey in the next scene. Will he wear red and blue, or will he sport different colors?

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin isn't shy about his love of quarterbacks. The day of the win over LSU, Kiffin donned a hoodie honoring Manning, and he visited Arch in New Orleans this week.

Although Ole Miss has quarterback questions entering the 2022 season, it's clear that Kiffin--and the rest of college football, for that matter--covet this young signal caller who will enter the sport in 2023.

Speed limit sign located on Manning Way on the campus of Ole Miss.

Speed limit sign located on Manning Way on the campus of Ole Miss.

The Ole Miss students and fans can say the same. On campus in Oxford, speed limit signs bearing the numbers of Eli and Archie have been adorned with stickers that simply read "WE WANT ARCH," a concrete reminder that history tends to repeat itself, one way or another.

Just which version of history this will be for Ole Miss fans remains to be seen. Will Arch follow the steps of Peyton and go outside of Oxford for his collegiate career, even if it's in the SEC? Will he follow the path of Cooper, Archie and Eli and make his home in North Mississippi? One way or the other, we've seen this story before, but this chapter will be one of the most documented and followed in the history of college athletics before it's all said and done.

With the name Manning involved, should we expect any different?


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