Late Wednesday afternoon, typically the time most of us are deciding whether it’s time to mentally shut it down for the rest of the day, word came down the information superhighway Eli Manning plans to announce his retirement from professional football on Friday.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP and all-time leader in making Patriots fans fill their diapers will end his 16-year career having played only for the Giants, which, as they say, YOU DON’T SEE THAT A LOT ANYMORE, BOB.
Before he went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL*, you may recall he spent three years as the starting quarterback at Ole Miss, dragging David Cutcliffe teams to an Independence Bowl and a Cotton Bowl. In honor of the ruiner-of-perfect-NFL-seasons’ retirement, we shall look back at those three years and some of the finest moments he brought Ole Miss fans.
*Mississippi State #madonline ASSEMBLLLLLLLLLLLLE.
(1) 2001 vs. Alabama
For the #YOUTHS or those who can remember multiple details from, say, Con Air, but can’t remember significant events, this was the first time Ole Miss beat Alabama since 1988. However, in the years leading up to this game, it felt like Ole Miss would never beat Alabama again.
In 1998, Ole Miss, the superior team, out-gained Alabama by roughly 892 yards but had red zone issues and missed a quarter of a million field goals on the way to a three-point loss in overtime. The following year brought forth a heartbreaking six-point loss in Oxford, which was followed by a 7-5 Ole Miss team losing 45-7 to a 3-8 Alabama team in 2000 because why not? Oh, right... David Cutcliffe.
It was safe to say there were some, ahem, EMOTIONAL SCARS. And in 2001, things appeared to be headed in a similar direction, as Ole Miss, down 24-20, failed to covert a fourth down inside Alabama’s 10-yard line with just under four minutes to play.
With under two minutes to play, Ole Miss got the ball back, and Eli started cooking.
The first pass was scramble drill related, but the swing pass to Joe Gunn was perfection. If he doesn’t lead him and hit him in stride, there’s no way Gunn has enough momentum to go through the Alabama defender and into the end zone. Without that, Ole Miss probably fumbles or does some peak #WAOM on the next play.
Instead, JEFFERSON PILOT GRAPHICS AHOY.
(2) The Entire Dang 2002 Season
(2) The Entire Dang 2002 Season
That’s right, it’s listed twice for a reason. Ole Miss had zero ability to run the ball that season. And when I say zero, I mean its leading rusher, Goldie McClendon, had 378 rushing yards. Three-Seven-Eight.
Ole Miss averaged, for an entire season of football, 3 yards per carry. On the season, opponents out-rushed them by over 800 yards.
What happens when you can’t run the dang ball? You throw it 481 times with Eli Manning.
Fun fact: That’s still a school record for most passing attempts in a season (SWAG Kelly is second with 458 in 2015). Double fun fact: Only six times has an individual Ole Miss quarterback thrown over 400 passes in a season. Eli Manning is responsible for three of those.
Earlier, when I said he dragged David Cutcliffe teams to bowl games, I meant he built a giant bus by hand, physically carried each player and coach into the bus, and drove the bus with his left hand while using his right hand to keep everyone else from messing with the A/C, as the bus was doing 75 MPH down I-20 on the way to Shreveport.
(4) 2001 vs. Murray State
To set the scene here, this was the season-opener in what was Manning’s first game as a starter and since he sparked a mini-comeback in the Music City bowl at the end of the previous season. A brief pause to remember David Cutcliffe coaching trash:
Manning’s Music City Bowl performance (three fourth-quarter touchdown passes) allowed Ole Miss fans to believe that maybe, JUST MAYBE, he might live up to the hype. The next time we saw him, he threw five touchdown passes and completed 18 straight passes at one point.
Granted, it was Murray State, but the feeling at the time was THREE HEISMANS FOR SURE, MAYBE ONLY TWO NATIONAL TITLES. Never let it be said Ole Miss fans know how to tap the brakes when hope shows up.
(5) 2003 vs. Auburn
Making NFL throws in college:
KILLIN’ ‘EM WITH THE FULLBACK WHEEL ROUTE:
(6) 2003 vs. Alabama
The score at the end of the first quarter:
The score at halftime:
TRUE STORY THAT MAY NOT BE A TRUE STORY: An Alabama friend of mine told me that Snake Stabler (RIP), who was the radio color analyst for Alabama at the time, got to the game close to halftime because of traffic (this part is true). During halftime, he was wherever the food for the media is and saw an Alabama person across the room. He got the guy’s attention and semi-shouted, “Can you believe this shit?”
Point being, BRING BACK MIKE SHULA.
(7) Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma State
(7) Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma State
Another so nice, we see it twice.
From another angle!
Your thoughts, Les Miles?
In case you forgot, Oklahoma State spent the rest of the game throwing passes to Rashaun Woods, who Ole Miss couldn’t stop, despite double teams, pass interfering, and knowing it was coming. Love to nearly choke away a 17-point fourth-quarter lead.
(9) 2001 vs. Arkansas
In the first overtime of the infamous seven-overtime game that lasted somewhere around three days, Ole Miss faced a fourth and six. Failing to convert meant the game was over (and would’ve spared us another 52 hours in the stadium), but Manning decided to showcase the RPMs and accuracy.
GO FOR TW- lol David Cutcliffe has a 12, with the dealer showing a face card, and he’s always gonna sit tight.
The good news for Ole Miss, who was 6-1 and in a position to win the SEC West going in to this game, is that they would finish 7-4 and not go to a bowl game.
(10) 2003 vs. Mississippi State
Unfortunately, no footage of this game can be found within 15 seconds of searching for it. That means we are denied video of a few touchdown passes in a 31-0 win that, if not for Old Testament rain, would’ve been 63-0 in Jackie Sherrill’s last game as the Bulldogs head coach.
However, because we can’t end on such a non-video note, there is footage of the 24-12 win in the 2002 Egg Bowl. If you’re in the Jackson metro area, you should know that a local furniture baron, even 17 years ago, was having their 672nd sale of the year after this game.
For the historians reading this years from now, I attended this game, and my two memories are that it was freezing (FREEZING) and miserable (MISERABLE), and Eli dunked on a defense with 10 guys in the box against an offense that couldn’t run the ball when facing a base defense and had 36 yards rushing in the game prior to this play.
THE KANG MAD AT JOE LEE.
Finally, congratulations to Eli Manning on a great career, good luck in whatever comes next, and always, always SIP THAT REFRESHING TEA.