Take a journey with me, if you will. It’s a journey that profiles a member of one of our country’s most notorious families, one that reveals the undeniable reverence for an American born stallion with the pedigree of a thoroughbred, the stature of a saber tooth tiger, the presence of a decorated field general, and the endless appetite for greatness.
You know the old axiom about those who were born on third base and act like they hit a triple, implying that they are entitled, often self-indulgent, and take life’s gifts for granted? It’s very real. Others “born on third” are humble about their blessings, acknowledging the hard work that family members before them put in to enable such an advantageous foundation for prosperity. It’s just that this particular character doesn’t fall into either one of these categories. He was born on third base, embraced it, and pelvic-thrusted his way to home plate with his meat hanging and flailing about. His name is Cooper Manning, and he’s an American Icon.
Let’s back up for a second and recap the previous weekend plus Monday in the eyes of the patriarchal Manning, Archie. On sunday, he witnessed his youngest son dial up a legendary comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs to the tune of 510 passing yards, 3 TDs and a slew of clutch throws after falling behind in the first half due to some careless interceptions. It was a huge performance that set the sports world abuzz (and contributed to my fantasy team victory). The other NFL son had a more forgettable performance, falling to the Atlanta Falcons after looking rather pedestrian and throwing wounded ducks all over the Georgia Dome. Peyton doesn’t appear to have regained that arm strength of old. Let’s be fair, though, the man’s coming back from a full season off to recover from neck surgery. And both these guys have Super Bowl MVP trophies on their mantles. All in all, the Manning brothers have a lot to be proud of, and as their father, Archie is one proud hombre. But what about Cooper?
According to legend, Cooper would routinely challenge his younger brothers, Eli and the middle one, to physically demanding games as kids that he dominated, only to school them with the harsh teachings of humility. He served as mentor, and much of their success can be attributed to the eldest sibling. Cooper Manning wasn’t blessed with a howitzer on his right shoulder like his younger brothers, and he couldn’t drop one in over a streaking receiver’s shoulder or sidestep a defensive lineman in the pocket and swing it out to an outlet receiver, but he was swift-footed with flytrap hands. And he had that traditional Manning size. He played wide receiver, and he was a good one, even receiving attention from suitors like Texas, Virginia and Ole Miss. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Cooper has spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The diagnosis ended his football career, and he’d have to redefine himself. Besides, I’m not totally convinced football was in the cards anyway.
Cooper just has that… “Hey old man, I’m sitting with you in the box today. I think Eli throws for a buck sixty in the first half against this secondary. Oh, I’m bringing this new bottle of single malt that Gary from the office gave me. He thought we’d appreciate it. And hey, did you see Peyton’s interview on Friday where he called out his ‘drunk idiot kicker’? Haha, that was priceless. By the way, what are they serving in the suite today?”… kinda vibe. He just belongs in the air-conditioned box where he gets to keep his button-down crisp, his drink stiff, his sleeves rolled, his combover in place, and the conversation going. Secondly, it’s tough to play college ball and frat at the same time. It’s obviously doable (Eli did it), but how committed can one really be while juggling football and fraternity? Cooper was a proud member of The Order at Ole Miss, and according to tale, he took full advantage of his fraternal membership and famous last name.
Unlike his brothers, no one’s buying any Cooper Manning jerseys or approaching him with football and Sharpie in hand. He’s not studying playbooks or throwing weights around, and he doesn’t have an agent. Instead, he slings business cards, possibly bone colored with raised lettering. Cooper now works in a plush office building in downtown New Orleans dealing with energy investing. A decade from now when his younger brothers are out of football, sucking down pain killers, coaching their kids’ pee wee games and looking for that next low-ceiling business venture, it’ll be Cooper’s time.