I said, See you later, Cougar.
"Where do you come from?" Archie has asked Cooper more than once, unable to make sense of the notion that they might be related. "Sometimes I wonder if somebody didn't leave you on my doorstep."
He's been different from the start. Archie had just finished his third year with the New Orleans Saints when Cooper came along in 1974, weighing 12 pounds, three ounces. His birth made the papers both in New Orleans and in Mississippi, where Archie's legend was so large that practically anything he did made the papers. Buried under the news that the South had its next great quarterback was the matter of the child's size. While Olivia, his mother, was embarrassed at having had such a big baby, Archie took it in stride, wondering if he might have an offensive lineman on his hands. They named him after Olivia's father, Cooper Williams, proprietor of an old-time country store in Philadelphia, Miss. Two years later Peyton was born, then Eli arrived in 1981. The younger boys had their strengths, but in the beginning it was Cooper who seemed especially gifted. He was smart, witty and fearless, and when family parties were dragging, Olivia invariably turned to him and said, "O.K., Coop, let's see if you can shake things up."
A group of adults would be gathered in serious conversation, and Cooper would walk in, armed with a joke his grandmother had taught him. "The world could be coming to an end, and he's onstage trying to get people to laugh," Olivia says. "We created a monster."
Not all of his jokes originated with his grandmother. Some came from older boys who knew the little knucklehead would repeat anything, especially if Archie wasn't around. "Do you want to hear a joke?" Cooper asked unsuspecting strangers one day at Mississippi's Neshoba County Fair. He was about five years old, with a wad of tobacco in his mouth and an accent straight out of Hee Haw, and it was summertime, after his dad had reported to training camp.
"Sure, I'd like to hear a joke, little boy."
"Cost you a quarter."
"Here you are, son."