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Nothing To Prove

Manning Made His Decision to Stay at Tennessee, and the Rest Is History

September 03, 1997|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER and Associated Press

It's a high-ceilinged showplace in New Orleans' Garden District, built in 1853, and its history just keeps on coming.

Olivia Manning is the mistress of the house and keeper of the scrapbooks, and has shipped a few chronicling her famous husband's exploits to his alma mater, Mississippi, where Archie Manning stands alongside--maybe ahead of--William Faulkner in the university's favorite-son line.

Olivia needs the room because she has just received a new supply of books to handle the onslaught expected from her son's senior year. They will be filled with stories from Tennessee papers, but there may not be many from those published in New York. That's because Peyton Manning isn't playing quarterback for the Jets, as was forecast a year, even six months ago.

He's still at Tennessee, where he's taking an occasional nap.

"I can tell the difference," his mom says. "He's finally enjoying life right now, and he seems happier. He smiles more."

He's the senior at Tennessee whose legend has been embellished by being a senior at Tennessee, instead of being an NFL rookie, playing for Bill Parcells.

Peyton Manning, who wouldn't let the NFL show him the money. Manning, the college quarterback who left $30 million on the table.

"I was surprised, particularly after the little bit of money I tried to chip in," said UCLA Coach Bob Toledo, who probably would have paid to have Manning anywhere other than under center against the Bruins on Saturday in the Rose Bowl. "He's a great player. I'm shocked he didn't come out because . . . he'd be starting for half of the football teams in the NFL right now."

Instead, he's starting for a fourth season for the Volunteers. And he's more experienced, bigger, stronger and more at peace.

"I've been rushed the last three years, and now I can slow down a bit," Manning says. "I can do things now at a slower pace.

"I've been in a rush to do everything. It wasn't atypical to stay up till 2 a.m., studying for a test or watching game films. I haven't had time to take a nap in three years."

His Knoxville apartment has been papered with yellow sticky notes, which are compiled into a master list of too many things to do: 50-minute workouts in the weight room sandwiched among visits with reporters, classes, studying, practice, twice-weekly phone calls to New Orleans and more phone calls to the University of Virginia, which Ashley Thompson, a recent graduate and longtime girlfriend, was attending.

And Manning's last three years have been spent in getting a degree in speech communications, earning a 3.61 grade-point average, being selected to Phi Beta Kappa and throwing for 7,692 yards and 57 touchdowns for the Volunteers.

He wanted a fourth year, to slow down and smell the magnolias.

"Everybody would like to go back to their senior year in college and repeat it, wouldn't they?" says Olivia, whose senior year at Ole Miss included being homecoming queen and dating the All-American quarterback.

That's the way her son was thinking March 4, when he told the nation that Peyton Manning, graduate student, would be available to throw passes for the Volunteers one more season.

"The biggest factor was just that I wanted to stay for my senior year," Manning said. "I've had schoolwork, football and not much else."

To graduate, he took 22 hours during a spring spent in deciding, in talking to "six or seven" people Archie had pulled from the agent weed patch; in phoning past and current quarterbacks Roger Staubach, Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer, and meeting with basketball player Tim Duncan, who dealt with a similar decision, and anybody else who could offer input.

"I thought at first that he would be going on to the NFL," said Archie, who maintains NFL contacts through his job as the radio analyst of the New Orleans Saints, for whom he played quarterback.

"Then, I thought he was going to stay and was just looking to see if there was a reason that he shouldn't."

There wasn't.

"The decision really didn't surprise me," said Parcells, who, when he was coaching the New England Patriots, drafted Bledsoe as a junior at Washington State.

"I admire the young man for deciding something of that nature. I think the common feeling in this country today is that everybody sells out for the money and the opportunity. I think that in Peyton's case, I admire his decision and think that it took courage to make it, and I wish him well. I think things will go well for him."

So far, so good.

He has geared back to nine hours of graduate school, spent mostly in independent study.

He's seeking a master's degree in sports management, but he's also taking a class in finance. The NFL money, he figures, will still be on the table.

All of the reasons to turn pro, the money, the fear of injury, will take care of themselves. They did for Archie, who sustained a broken arm during his senior season at Ole Miss but still signed a five-year, $410,000 contract with the Saints, then the richest pact in NFL history.

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