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Ole Miss to Honor Eli Manning

By Dave Holcomb
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Eli Manning set or tied 47 school records and became the highest pick in Ole Miss history, edging his father by one selection,

Former quarterback Eli Manning will have to wait five years to see if he makes the NFL Hall of Fame, but for his accomplishments at the college level, Ole Miss is already recognizing his achievements. The Rebels announced this summer that the football program will retire his No. 10 this September.

Manning will join just two other players, one of which is his father, Archie Manning, with retired jersey numbers for Ole Miss football. In a year full of uncertainty surrounding college football, this decision couldn’t feel more right.

One could argue the greatest football days of Manning’s career happened at Ole Miss, which is really saying something considering he won two Super Bowl MVP awards. With the Rebels, he wasn’t just a big-game quarterback. He set school records and led the program to its first 10-win season in more than three decades.

Manning earned the starting job behind center as a sophomore and immediately starred, throwing for 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. That remains a school record -- Chad Kelly tied the mark in 2015.

In a classic matchup against Arkansas that season, Manning broke an Ole Miss record with six touchdown passes. He also threw for 312 yards and zero interceptions, but the Rebels lost to the Razorbacks, 58-56.

He experienced a dip in his statistics during his junior season, but Manning did post his first 3,000-yard passing season in 2002. Then as a senior, he recorded 3,600 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions on his way to the Maxwell Award. He also finished with an 8.2 yards per attempt average and 62.4 completion percentage while concluding the Heisman Trophy voting in third.

Manning had a lot of great days at Ole Miss, but outside of his six-touchdown performance, none of his other games are necessarily “legendary”. He led Ole Miss to a 31-0 victory in the Egg Bowl as a senior and then to a Cotton Bowl victory to cap off his college career, but none of that really compares to the game-winning Super Bowl drives against the dynasty New England Patriots.

His 414 passing yards against Arkansas in 2002 -- Manning loved facing the Razorbacks -- at the time was among the most passing yards in a game in school history, but the performance has since been knocked out of the Top 10 passing yard single-game totals at Ole Miss. He’s fallen to third on the single-season passing yards list behind Kelly and Jordan Ta’amu.

But Manning put together an entire career that arguably makes him the best player in Ole Miss history. His 10,119 passing yards and 84 passing touchdowns are both records at the school. He had 22 more touchdowns than Bo Wallace, who is second on the program’s list, and Manning recorded 5,366 more passing yards than his father.

Manning set or tied 47 school records and became the highest pick in Ole Miss history, edging his father by one selection, going No. 1 to the then San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers didn’t really have a choice in trading Manning the day they drafted him. The Manning family threatened the organization, stating he would not play for the Chargers, and practically demanded a trade to the New York Giants. Even so, it’s hard to not think of what may have been if he remained in San Diego. In that scenario, maybe the Chargers are still there too.

Then again, Archie made the right decision to force the Chargers to trade his son to the Giants. Playing in New York allowed Manning to become a big-game quarterback, which is his best chance at NFL immortality in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But before any of that, Manning earned enshrinement at Ole Miss not just on the basis of winning big games but by putting together one of the greatest SEC football careers of the last 20 years.