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"I was dreading the off-season," Manning says. "But people don't talk about it much. There's optimism. Everyone's talking about Bum. The other day I asked him when our mini-camp was, and he said, 'You don't have to worry about being there. Ain't nothing going to go on anyway.' "
For Manning, the aftermath of the 1-15 season was a long look at his future in New Orleans. When Stanfel took over, Steve Rosenbloom, the general manager who later resigned, had told him to bench Manning and play Guy Benjamin. Stanfel refused. After the season Rosenbloom's assistant, Harold Guiver, called Manning to set up a lunch date. The purpose—to extend Manning's contract.
"It was an extension with an insignificant raise," Archie says. "Frank and I had timed my current contract to run until the Players Association contract expired. Now Harold wanted to extend it. I told him, 'Look, I was born at night, but not last night.' "
Phillips has made it clear that Manning is very prominent in his plans for the Saints. He's not worried about his quarterback's 32 years. "Not the way that guy takes care of hisself," Phillips says. "You ever see those strength and health magazines? There's a whole section on guys over 40, great physical specimens with bulging muscles and everything. There's nothing wrong with those guys. They've taken care of themselves. Archie's like that."
Mecom says that the only indecision about Manning's future with the club came from Rosenbloom. "Steve was vehement about Archie's going," he said. "He wanted everyone around him to be a former Ram. The only problem with Archie here is that everyone else can't measure up to the standards he has set."
It is a recent Wednesday morning, and Manning is working on dealer development for Royal Oldsmobile, one of about five jobs he has in the off-season. Together they bring in roughly $100,000 a year. He has built some unusual clauses into the contracts for these jobs. No one-shot deals with the companies he works for—the radio station, the insurance company that hired him to do P.R. "If I'm going to do it," he says, "I want to really be a part of it." The minimum is usually three years, "but if I leave the Saints, they're automatically released from their obligations if they want it that way." It's a refreshing bit of morality in the world of commerce, but for Manning it's no big deal, just the decent way to do things. Or, as Phillips says, "He's a young man who was brought up good."
Manning has just hung up after calling Pete Maravich about playing in a golf tournament Manning is running. He checks the name off a little list. He makes a couple of notations and moves down to the next name.
"I'm an organization nut," he says. "Lists, lists within lists. I can't help it. I was even like that as a kid. I've got a master list for work. I can't go to item three if I haven't finished item two. I go around our house picking up kids' toys. I do it in my wife's parents' house, too. I just can't relax, and it isn't even my house. My boy, Cooper, is just like me. He can't open gifts at Christmas without having a garbage can nearby so he can throw out the wrapping paper right away. My way of doing things has its advantages, though. If I meet a guy and he gives me his card and asks for a picture for his kid, it'll go down on the list. And that picture will be sent."
A man comes in and introduces himself. He reminds Manning that they met at the Belle Terre Country Club. He tells Manning he's running a banquet for a drug program, and informs Manning that he's expecting him to be the featured speaker. A request wrapped up in the language of a command. The word "please" is never used. "Looking forward to seeing you in June, heah?" the man says as he leaves. Manning sighs and watches him go.
"He thinks he needs me, but he really doesn't," Manning says. "If he was just starting the program, if he really needed my help, it would be different, but this one's well established." It's a tricky business. Manning is now on the board of half a dozen different charities, and three seasons ago he won the NFL Players Association Justice Byron (Whizzer) White Award for the good works he has been doing. But there are always people waiting for that one denial so they can tell everyone, "Hey, that Archie Manning isn't so special. He turned me down last week."