The missing QB links between Peyton and Eli

Originally Published: September 6, 2006
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

They're bouncing off the walls at the Newman School in Uptown New Orleans this week, counting down the days until Sunday. Be sure that Bruno's Bar -- the new one and the old one --will be packed, every television tuned to the Manning Bowl. It's a time to remember. After all, for six years out of eight in the not so distant past, Peyton or Eli dropped back and shredded Louisiana Class AA defenses.

Of course, that leaves two Manning-less years right in the middle.

That leaves Madoc Walmsley and Cole LeBourgeois.

Their friends know them as a pharmaceutical salesman and a former ski bum, respectively. Outwardly, they seem to have little in common except for a strange trivia-question bond: They are the two poor quarterbacks who bridged the Manning gap.

LeBourgeois, who moved to Austin, Tex., a few months ago from Sun Valley, laughs.

"There's no need for arrogance about any of it because we were just there," he says. "We just both played in between them. It doesn't mean anything special about us."

Usually, they keep it quiet. Walmsley doesn't tell many people. Neither does LeBourgeois. He'll be watching a Colts or Giants game and still keep silent. But sometimes, people will ask where he's from. If they ask what high school, he's trapped.

"Newman."

"Did you know the Mannings?"

Pause.

"I played in between them at quarterback."

Cole LeBourgeois
Cole LeBourgeoisAfter following Peyton Manning at quarterback, Cole LeBourgeois went looking for other mountains to climb.
Then the questions come, and so do the answers, since Walmsley and LeBourgeois had front row seats for history. Walmsley had the unfortunate luck of being a kid groomed to play quarterback who also happened to be roughly the same age as Peyton Manning. It's like working on the high school paper with Ernie Hemingway. You're pretty much screwed.

The Walmsley and Manning families were close, and the boys were and still are friends. So Walmsley was Peyton's back-up and played free safety, waiting for his turn. He saw the 7,207 yards, the 92 touchdowns and the undefeated regular season.

Then came 1994. His turn.

"It felt like part of the program graduated," says '94 captain and current head coach Nelson Stewart. "I remember the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune asking the captains: 'What do you do?' We really just redesigned our offense. We went from a gun-spread offense to a little high school, I-formation, option, run, run. We started running. We stopped checking every single play."

The memory of a teenaged Peyton frantically changing the plays makes Stewart chuckle.

"He was exactly like you think he would be," he says.

Walmsley did more than tread water as the starting QB. They won 10 games. He ran the ball a lot. The thing he remembers most that year is a game-ending interception. Only he isn't sure who they were playing or even their exact record. That's such a long time ago.

"Some people can tell you exactly what happened in each game," he says. "Peyton's one of those people. He can tell you who caught what pass and what route. I can't remember yesterday. I don't know if I got hit harder than he did."

While Walmsley was leading the varsity, Eli was slinging the ball all over the junior high field, even if his eighth grade receivers sometimes didn't know what to do with the lasers flying at them. When Walmsley graduated, the reins were turned over to LeBourgeois, who was more of a drop-back passer. Newman coaches returned some of the Manning playbook.

Eli was his backup. That's a fun line to throw around a bar.

Still, everyone knew what was sitting down there, waiting.

"The talent was undeniable," LeBourgeois says. "He always had the knack for throwing it to the right guy even that young. His arm was almost as strong as mine. He needed that year to get up to speed."

During the fall 1995, LeBourgeois had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a quarterback.

"I got to run a really fun offense that was built for the Mannings," he says. "That aspect of being between them was really great."

He kept the seat warm, taking them to an 8-3 record. Then it was Eli's show. Like his brother, Eli was a man among boys. He started down the road to stardom. Walmsley and LeBourgeois went on with their previously scheduled lives.

Walmsley went to Ole Miss, where he played baseball. Now, he's in Little Rock, Ark. He's married and still sees Peyton and Eli when he is home for the holidays. LeBourgeois got his degree from SMU, but not before taking a year to live in the mountains. He needed a break from the grind and found it in Idaho.

"Just basically a ski bum and waiting tables," he says. "I met my wife toward the end of that year. I went back to SMU after that year and finished up and was so smitten, immediately after graduating I went back to Sun Valley where she was."

He soon talked her into taking a trip. They worked at a vineyard in Australia. They bought a station wagon and drove it up and down that continent's coast. They spent two months in Southeast Asia, then a few weeks in New Zealand. The adventure complete, they came back to New Orleans, where LeBourgeois spent a year as a financial analyst for an investment bank. But something didn't seem right.

"We missed Sun Valley," he says. "We felt like we had some unfinished living to do there. It held a fascination for both of us. That small-town mountain life."

Eventually, a job came open at Scott USA, which makes outdoors equipment. He didn't tell a lot of people about his small claim to fame. Not even Joe Snyder, one of his best friends at the company.

"You're kidding," Snyder says when told the factoid. "Really? I never knew that."

About two months ago, they wanted to come closer to home. Out came the atlas. Finally, they decided on Austin. That's where his journey has taken him.

Peyton's in Indy; Eli in New York. LeBourgeois is in Texas, and he'll be watching this Sunday. Walmsley is thinking of going to the game. Over at Newman, they've turned back into pumpkins. Quarterbacks are more like Madoc and Cole than Peyton and Eli. The head coach still has those old plays. Sometimes, he wonders what would happen if he dusted them off. Those daydreams don't last long.

"You just can't teach 17-year-old kids to hit the deep post on their third read," Stewart says, laughing. "We still have patterns from '93 I'd love to run, but we don't have a kid with an arm to throw a 15-yard out off his back foot."

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.