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Peyton doesn't seem to mind the recruiting pressures or even acknowledge them. Football is his passion and always has been. As a kid of four he could execute a seven-step drop back and fling a Nerf ball clear across the living room. When he was a little older, he could discuss the nuances of the game, having spent long days studying film of his dad.
Peyton enjoys the string of calls he receives each night because it gives him a chance to probe the minds of some of the best coaches in the game. As a matter of fact, he complains only when recruiters shower him with too much praise or try to suck up to him. Earlier this season one Atlantic Coast Conference coach called after his team had lost a game and said, "Will you love me tonight, Peyton? I really need you to love me tonight."
Startled, Peyton answered, "Well, I don't know about that."
"I really do need a hug," the man continued. "I'm hurting."
It wasn't long before Peyton scratched that school off his list.
"We gotta get him," Cooper Manning's fraternity brothers at the Ole Miss Kappa Alpha house tell him all the time. "We've just gotta get him. Hey, Coop, can you help us get Peyton?"
It's not just the campus Greeks, either. Mississippi people in general seem somewhat frenzied these days at the notion that another of Archie's sons—and a quarterback at that—has come of age. To understand the reason, you have to first understand Archie's importance to the place. This spring Archie was named quarterback for the Team of the Century at Ole Miss, and a year ago a newspaper poll rated him Mississippi's All-Time Greatest Athlete. These selections surprised no one. Back when he was playing for the Rebels, Archie was so idolized that even fans from Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State wrote him sweetheart letters. Had some civic group sanctioned a contest for the state's Most Desirable Redheaded Male, you could bet Archie would've taken home that trophy, too, even though he has officially resided in Louisiana for more than 22 years.
Of late, people in Mississippi have shifted their focus from Archie to Peyton. How much would Peyton mean to the school? This season he received a letter from the Ole Miss football office detailing the Top Ten Advantages of Becoming a Rebel. The list would make David Letterman proud:
1. You can continue the Manning family tradition of success and happiness at Ole Miss.
2. You will afford convenience for your grandparents, mom and dad and brothers to see you play college football.