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September 14, 2009
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September 14, 2009

The Vault

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Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | Sept. 14, 1970

Rebel Leader

Ole Miss rallied round a native son with a live arm

Entering a "red-letter year for quarterbacks," wrote William F. Reed, unassuming senior Archie Manning was the best of them.

The phenomenon now known as Archie Fever began last fall when, as a junior, Manning passed and ran the Rebels to an 8--3 record—including an upset of Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. First red-and-blue buttons inscribed ARCHIE or ARCHIE'S ARMY blossomed like dogwood all over the Ole Miss campus in Oxford. Then some Tennessee fans came up with ARCHIE WHO? buttons, and the craze was on. After Archie and the Rebels wiped out Tennessee 38--0 in Jackson, Ole Miss came back with YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHO buttons. Lamont Wilson, a postal clerk in Magnolia, Miss., took the tune of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and hastily worked up a ditty titled The Ballad of Archie Who. The song sold 35,000 copies quicker than you can whistle Dixie, and young Manning became a sort of instant folk hero.

Now, with Archie starting his senior season, the fever has spread through the land. So great is the demand for his autograph that the athletic department has made a rubber stamp of his signature and assigned a secretary to handle his mail. A fast-food chain wanted to sell Archie Burgers, and a Memphis manufacturer tried to put out a line of Archie products—including a life-sized Archie balloon.

"I've never seen anything like it," says Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught. "I guess it's the times, the desire to glorify athletes. Thank goodness Archie is a sensible man and hasn't let any of it go to his head."

Manning led Ole Miss to a 7--4 record in 1970 and finished third in the Heisman voting, behind winner Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann.

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