Commentary

The choice is clear

Peyton is making life difficult for Saints fans, especially his family

Updated: February 2, 2010, 3:20 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

ManningsAP Photo/Darron CummingsDespite their hometown allegiance, Archie (left) and Cooper (middle) ain't rooting for the Saints.

This Super Bowl is stickier than a pecan roll for the Manning family of New Orleans.

Even though one of the sons, Peyton, belongs to legend, and one of the sons belongs to the New York Giants, the rest of their hearts belong to the local NFL franchise, the Saints. Most of them have been Saints fans since they could shuck a crawdad.

"I remember one year," says the father, Archie, who was the Saints' quarterback for 12 years, "we were something like 0-11. It was a home game. Olivia [his wife] was up in the stands, pregnant with Eli. Everybody was booing us like crazy. And the boys turned to Olivia and said, 'Can we boo, too, Mom?' I think that's about when she shut it down. No more Saints games that year."

But the Mannings stuck with their mangy, suffering Saints, through thick and thin -- mostly thin. This is a team that's had nine winning seasons in 43. Cooper, the oldest, once put an 'Aints paper bag over his head when he was 5.

"My mom wasn't too happy about that," says Cooper, now 35 and a partner at an energy investment firm. "I think I was just doing what everybody else was doing."

These days in New Orleans, what everybody else is doing is going bazooka nuts over the Saints and their first Super Bowl in their starved history.

Except the Mannings, of course. They suddenly find themselves as the black hats. Peyton and his Indianapolis Colts stand between the Saints and the greatest parade in the history of the freaking world.

"I'm trying to suck whatever joy I can out of this thing," says Cooper Manning. "But it's kinda like eating a hot, raw, 30-year-old oyster."

Can you imagine? A Super Bowl parade in New Orleans? It would make Mardi Gras look like two boys pulling a beagle in a wagon.

"Oh, Lord," Archie says. "I can't imagine. This is a city that lives for parades. This is a city that practically invented parades."

So if the Saints beat the Colts, would he go?

"Uh, probably not."

Imagine Cooper's plight. The card of the family, he's been a manic Saints fan since birth. He's also a buddy of Saints QB Drew Brees. They golf together, fish together, go to dinner with the wives, movies, the whole program.

Cooper reached out to Brees when the ex-Charger signed with the Saints nearly four years ago. "Sometimes a guy needs a pal out of the locker room," Cooper says.

Cooper showed him the best hole-in-the-wall joints to eat, "places where you're sure you've taken a wrong turn," he says, like Jacques-Imo's and Casamento's and Irene's. Told him where the best neighborhoods were to live, the best schools. He was kind of Brees' human Zagat's. Hell, Brees' wife, Brittany, works out routinely with Olivia and Cooper's wife, Ellen, at their health club.

And now, with his favorite team at the very keyhole of paradise, he looks over and sees that it's playing his dang brother.

"I'm trying to suck whatever joy I can out of this thing," says Cooper, whose wife is also from New Orleans. "But it's kinda like eating a hot, raw, 30-year-old oyster. I don't like it when Peyton plays Eli, and I don't like this."

It's not going to be an easy week for Archie, either. He's known Brees since a teenage version of Brees approached Archie after he did a speech in Austin, Texas. To this day, they text each other often. "When Drew was with Purdue," Archie says, "he'd drive down once in a while and go see about Peyton [in the Colts locker room] after the game."

Don't get them wrong. They're rooting for Peyton. But it's like trying to decide which of your toes you'd like lopped off.

"Drew and I are still gonna be friends after," Cooper says. "But I know if it was me playing his brother, he'd pull for his brother. I guess I just wish Peyton were playing someone else."

Me, I wish Peyton were doing a quick stint at Sing Sing. I'm pulling for the Saints. Nothing against the Mannings. They're just about the nicest family in the NFL. It's just that:

1. The Colts already have one.
2. Indianapolis stole its team. New Orleans got stuck with the Saints.
3. The Mannings already have two Super Bowl rings. Admit it. Don't you get just a little tired of being happy for the Mannings? Brees, meanwhile, has none. He's a little guy with a big heart who lost his mom this past summer. He deserves a break.
4. To have something so joyous come out of the Superdome might push back a little further the utter squalor there nearly five years ago.
5. I REALLY want to see that parade.

In summary, you must either have had your heart removed by corn tongs or be in the Manning family if you're not pulling for the Saints. Betting on them? You must've had your brain removed.

"Yeah, it's kind of a bummer about the Saints," Archie says. "But you know, it's a good organization. The Saints will go again."

If that sounded like a prediction, it was.


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