Football Short Stories - 10
Other authors entertain us.
Man of Few Words
Tales from the Gator Swamp: A Collection of the Greatest Gator Stories Ever Told, Jack Hairston
Warren Fair, a Gator letterman at guard in '57, furnished several stories for the book. One of the favorite subjects of Fair was his Gator coach, Bob Woodruff.
"He was a very intelligent person who came out with some of the damnedest things. Someone described Coach Woodruff as the oratorical equivalent of a blocked punt," Fair said. That Woodruff was capable of poking fun at himself was proved when he took that description and applied it to himself often in his talks.
"A lot of people swear he made the same pep talk every game, and he did," Fair said. "Just a few words were different sometimes. I still remember his talks, especially one time when he said, 'Get out there and tackle 'em HARD and block 'em HARD, and don't forget, the team that makes the fewest mistakes always makes the fewest mistakes. ...'
"We were studying film on Wednesday night before the game one week. It was pitch black dark in there, and Coach Woodruff kept running the film backward and forward. Then we all noticed a strange smell in the room. Woodruff smoked cigarettes at the time, and this deep voice of his came out of the dark, 'Lit the wrong end....'"
"When we were scrimmaging, Coach Woodruff constantly would say, 'Run that play back.' One day the players prepared for him to say that after a pitchout from the quarterback to the halfback, and when he said it, the players ran the play backwards, like it would be re-run when you backed the film up. Every player ran backward from downfield back to the huddle. They even had it arranged where the running back pitched the ball forward to the quarterback, and the quarterback ran backwards to his spot under center. It broke everybody up, including the coaches."

L-R: Bob Woodruff, Wally Butts, Jimmy Dunn
Fair said Woodruff may have been his funniest after the Florida-Georgia game of '58. Georgia had about 400y of offense to Florida's 100, but Georgia fouled up consistently in scoring territory, and the Gators won the game, 7-6, on a 78y run by QB Jimmy Dunn.
"Georgia was already mad about the game," Fair said, "and when it was over, Coach Woodruff walked up to shake hands with Wally Butts, Georgia's coach, and said, 'How did you like our offense, Wally?'"
Fists were thrown at some postgame parties because of comments like that, but Butts was able to restrain himself regarding Woodruff's comment. Dick Stratton, Jacksonville TV sports director and a UF graduate, showed up at the Green Derby restaurant in Jacksonville with the game's official statistics about an hour after the game. One of Georgia's assistant coaches was in the room as Stratton read the stats in dramatic fashion, something like this: "First downs, Georgia 18, Florida 4. Rushing yards, Georgia 280, Florida 90. Passing yards, Georgia 120, Florida 10. Total yards, Georgia 400, Florida 100. But the most important statistic of all: Points, Georgia 6, Florida 7."
The Florida fans in the crowd broke into applause, but the Georgia assistant coach jumped up and decked Stratton with a right to the jaw. There's disagreement about who the Georgia assistant was, so his identity is being withhead.
Greene Wasn't Always Mean Joe
Hell with the Lid Off: Inside the Fierce Rivalry between the 1970s Oakland Raiders
and Pittsburgh Steelers
, Ed Gruver and Jim Campbell (2019)
He never thought he deserved to be called "Mean." The nickname came into vogue during Joe Greene's sophomore year at North Texas State. The team wore green, and because Greene and the defense was playing well they were called the Mean Green. Joe being named Greene, the moniker rubbed off on him.
When he signed autographs in his early years with the Steelers, the future Pro Football Hall of Fame DT would sign Joe Greene, leaving off the Mean.
The way Greene saw it, he did the best he could on every down and played hard on every play. "But," he would quickly add, "I'm not mean." Sometimes he talked to opposing QBs when he got to them during games, but it was never mean. "Don't bother to run the draw," Greene would tell the flustered QB, "because I'm going to be sitting right there in the hole waiting for it."
Greene respected offensive linemen but never believed any of them should ever beat a defensive lineman man on man. Some offensive linemen sought to beat their defensive counterparts with quickness, some with strength. Greene never studied the man who would be opposite him. The leader of the Steel Curtain defense would wait to see what his opponent was trying to do when the game started, and Greene would react. "I do what I have to do," he would say.
Steelers
offensive linemen found this out firsthand in team scrimmages. After being the first pick in new head coach Chuck Noll's first draft in 1969, Greene held out before signing. He was considered the cornerstone for what the Steelers were trying to build, and the contract holdout angered some of the team's veterans. C Ray Mansfield and G Bruce Van Dyke looked forward to teaching the rookie a lesson or two. A couple of days of dealing with Greene in practice left Mansfield and Van Dyke wishing they'd never met Mean Joe. ...
Greene
wasn't always devoted to football. Growing up in Temple, Texas, he quit the sport the first time he tried out for it in the eighth grade because they didn't give him a full uniform. Greene gained confidence in his ability as a 203-pound high school freshman. By his sophomore year he was a 235-pound MLB. He weighed 250 his senior season, and his reputation was just as outsize.

L-R: Joe Greene at North Texas State and with the Steelers
Greene had the reputation of being the dirtiest ballplayer to come out of Temple. He acknowledged that when his team was losing, he'd act the fool. He grew up with a loving mother but without a father and wondered if having a dad would have given him more stability. For a time he was more round than tall; he was timid and shy and was picked on and ridiculed.
Greene took out his aggressions on the football field. He got the reputation of being a bully. Greene knew he wasn't; he was exacting revenge for being teased. He once recalled being kicked out of every game his sophomore season and nine more his junior year. He ran over a few officials, sometimes intentionally, he said. Following a loss on his high school's home field, Greene went to a diner and encountered the team that had won. The opposing QB was enjoying an ice cream cone. Greene took the cone and smeared it all over the QB's face. Later that night he charged the front door of the opposing team's bus after being hit in the chest with a soda bottle thrown by one of the players. As Greene forced his way in through the front door, opposing players scampered out the back. ...
The same lack of discipline was evident to scouts who visited North Texas State. "Puts on weight, tendency to loaf," one scout said. Another opined that while Greene was physically gifted, he used his ability only in spurts. The final line in the Steelers' 1969 scouting file on Greene questioned taking him in the first round, "as he could turn out to be a big dog." Greene instead became the Steelers' top dog, the cornerstone of one of sports' greatest dynasties. Opponents saw him as mean, nasty, and intimidating - a big man who threw his weight around fiercely. Sometimes he could be reckless and take himself out of plays. But Greene also made tremendous plays that turned games around. He was inconsistent at times, given to playing some ordinary games. But Greene's ordinary games were better than outstanding games by other players. Mean Joe was one of the few defensive linemen who could dominate for four quarters. He was a powerful player on a powerhouse team, and he was always up for the big games. "Greene," George Allen said, "was the one who scared you the most."
Greene's coach at North Texas State called his defensive star a "fort on foot." In Pittsburgh the fort fronted what became known as the Steel Curtain.
Greene had all the physical tools to be successful in the NFL. He also had vision, a quality he considered more valuable than all the others. He could see what was happening on every play, could see where the blocks were coming from and where the ball was going. His biggest handicap was his tendency to guess. Early in his pro career Greene said that when he got into the game, he didn't always have time to think about what he ought to be doing. Monty Stickles, ... a Raiders color analyst ..., noted during a Steelers-Raiders game that while Greene was a very active tackle, his aggressive style sometimes took him out of the play.
Greene credits Noll for curing him of his tendency to play a guessing game with opposing offenses. When Greene guessed right he turned into a tornado that tore up everything in his path. Noll convinced Greene that guesswork meant he would be right only half the time. Do the job you're supposed to, Noll told him, and let his teammates do their jobs.
When they didn't Greene let them hear it. Russell recalled Greene growing angry when an opponent had success against the Steelers' defense. "Andy," Greene thundered, "what're you going to do?"
Greene got just as excited on the sidelines. He would approach Noll and say, "What's the QB doing?" and then approach WR coach Lionel Taylor and say, "What're the receivers doing?" Russell said Greene was such a great player that he thought everyone could play better if they only tried harder. Greene pulled himself from a game in '73 and stalked out of a team meeting in '74, upset with what he saw as his teammates' lack of fervor.
Lynn Swann - Tougher than You Think
Hell with the Lid Off: Inside the Fierce Rivalry between the 1970s Oakland Raiders
and Pittsburgh Steelers
, Ed Gruver and Jim Campbell (2019)
The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Swann shared similarities with [Steelers LB Jack] Lambert in that both were undersize for their positions. But where Lambert was rough and rugged, Swann was as smooth and graceful as his surname suggests. As an eleven-year-old Little Leaguer, Swann made a seemingly impossible leap at the outfield fence to snag in the tip of his glove a ball that had already cleared the wall. The catch preserved a win for Swann's team, the Senators. It was the kind of levitating leap Lynn became famous for during his Hall of Fame career with the Steelers, most notably at the end of the '75 season. "Lynn Swann," [Steeler coach Chuck] Noll would say, "has a sixth sense to go fro the football and catch it."
Swann's acrobatic catches, his ability to twist his body into S curves at the height of his leap, could be traced to his mother's insistence that his childhood be about more than sports. Born in Alcoa, Tennessee, Swann grew up in the San Francisco suburb of Foster City. His father worked the night shift at the nearby airport, and Lynn's mother spent nights giving him Bible lessons. He ... took tap-dance lessons and ballet classes in order to appreciate the arts. Swann became a regular visitor to art galleries, ballet recitals, museums, and the theater.
Each time Swann soared to make a catch, his years of ballet training and long jumping were in evidence. In high school he claimed the California state championship with a long-jump distance of 25-41/2. Some speculate that Swann could have been an Olympian in track and field.
But football proved to be Swann's primary sport. He earned a scholarship to a private Catholic school, Serra. His brother, Calvin, older by a year, attended a public school, San Mateo High. In 1968 a football game between the two schools was billed as a grudge match between the Brothers Swann. The disputes at home the week of the game became so contentious Lynn moved in with his coach in the days leading up to kickoff. Both of the brothers played well, catching two touchdown passes apiece, and Serra won 57-33.

Lynn Swann at USC; Jack Tatum hits Swann
Swann enrolled at Southern Cal, excelled as a receiver and return specialist, and was named All-America in 1971. He was a standout performer in the 1973 Rose Bowl against Ohio State, hauling in six catches for 108 yards and one TD.
As a rookie with the Steelers he led the league in punt-return yardage and by season's end was sharing playing time with Ron Shanklin. Because Pittsburgh's offense was run oriented in 1974, Swann had just eleven catches for two TDs in the twelve games he played. Still, the Steelers' brass saw so much in Swann, they dealt Shanklin to Detroit prior to the start of the '75 season. Pittsburgh receivers coach Lionel Taylor, a former AFL star, had a way of testing a player's concentration and reflexes. Taylor would hold a small tube and in the course of a conversation with the player drop the tube. Most players would make a desperate grab but miss catching the tube. Swann snagged it virtually every time.
Swann, however, very nearly didn't make it through the '74 season. A light snow was falling on Pittsburgh in the early-morning hours following the Steelers' Monday-night game in New Orleans. The snow turned to ice, and Swann, driving Franco Harris home from the stadium, hit an ice patch and slid down a hill. Swann recalled doing the worst thing he could do - hitting the brakes. Swann's car didn't stop skidding until it was within inches of the guardrail. "I thought I was going to kill Franco and myself," Swann said.
Firmly entrenched as a starter in '75, Swann did not disappoint. Despite drawing double coverage on a consistent basis, Swann caught 49 passes for an AFC-best eleven TDs and earned the respect of CBs around the NFL. Willie Alexander of the division-rival Houston Oilers said Swann wasn't the swiftest receiver in the league and didn't own Isaac Curtis-style speed. "But," Alexander added, Swann "always gets to the ball."
Swann got the ball often enough to help Pittsburgh post a 12-2 record that was a team-best mark to that point. Steeler fans bedecked Three Rivers Stadium with banners praising the young star who wore No. 88: "Swannie, How we love ya!" Additional banners cited a new math for the Steel City masses when it came time to totaling up the big-play Bradshaw-to-Swann connections: "12 + 88 = 6!"
One of Swann's leading tormentors, Jack Tatum, considered Swann a superb athlete. He admired Swann's grace, quickness, and speed as well as the fact that Lynn could catch the ball like few, if any, receivers could. Tatum played against several Hall of Fame receivers, including Paul Warfield, whom Tatum held in the highest esteem. Tatum credited Swann for understanding that self-preservation is an important part of football. Tatum said he practiced it himself when it came to confronting Earl Campbell and Larry Csonka in the open field.
When Oakland played Pittsburgh in the rivalry years, Tatum said the Raiders' defensive focus was more on flanker John Stallworth. The reason was that Oakland's Soul Patrol saw Stallworth as a receiver more likely to stick his nose into the action.
Swann and Stallworth played together for nine seasons and soared to rarefied heights reserved for only the greatest receiving duos ...
Because Pittsburgh was primarily a power running team for the first four years of their careers, Swann and Stallworth's numbers aren't as impressive as later duos like Buffalo's "K-Gun" combo of Andre Reed and James Lofton, Minnesota's Randy Moss and Cris Carter, or the tandem of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce on the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf." ...
Swann became the Baryshnikov of the NFL. He also became the target for the rival Raiders. When Tatum and George Atkinson learned of Swann's studying ballet and dance, they believed he could be intimidated. "They went after him," Raiders LB Phil Villapiano said.
The Steelers saw what Tatum and Atkinson were doing, but Stallworth said there was never a point where Pittsburgh believed that Swann was intimidated. "The Raiders thought they could intimidate Lynn by hitting him," Stallworth said. "I never saw him not jump or not reach as high as he could to catch the football. So if that was their strategy, it didn't work." Still, Swann added, it didn't stop the Raiders from trying.

"I ain't got no comment."
Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: The Greatest College Football Finishes (Since 1970),
Ted Mandell (2006)
Fran Curci was not a crowd favorite at Tulane. And with good reason.
In 1972, Curci, in his second year as head coach at Miami, led his Hurricanes into battle against the Green Wave at the Orange Bowl. With Tulane leading 21-17 late in the fourth quarter, Miami drove to the TU 18. The following sequence of plays occurred.
First-and-10 at the 18. Chuck Foreman gains 2y. Second-and-eight at the 16. Ed Carney throws incomplete, intended for Foreman. Third-and-eight at the 16. Carney's pass to Foreman is complete but Miami is penalized for illegal procedure.
After the penalty, third-and-13 at the 21. Carney's sacked for an 11y loss. Fourth-and-24 at the 32. Carney throws incomplete to Phil Corrigan.
Tulane takes over on downs, right? Wrong. Miami was mistakenly given an extra down.
Fifth-and-24 at the 32. Carney hits Witt Beckman for a 32y TD pass with 1:05 to play.
Miami, benefiting from an official's mistake, shocked the Green Wave and won 24-21. Tulane president Dr. Herbert Longnecker meticulously articulated the opinion of his school. "Had Tulane won a game under these conditions, the alleged victory would have been rescinded by our own actions and the game's outcome would have been reversed with the score reverting to that existing at the time of the illegal play," he said.
The rest of the Tulane faithful were more succinct. "We got screwed," was probably the prevailing response in New Orleans. Either way, Miami kept the victory and Tulane kept a chip on their shoulder for Curci, who the following year, took the head coaching position at Kentucky.
Eight years later, Curci brought his Wildcats to the New Orleans Superdome on All Saints Day to face Tulane, a school that was seemingly cursed against Curci-coached squads (Tampa, Miami, and Kentucky) ... winless in five tries.
But this time, the Green Wave looked golden against Kentucky. Led by the combination of senior QB Nickie Hall and senior WR Marcus Anderson, Tulane jumped out to a 21-3 second quarter lead. ...
Then something came over the Green Wave. They blew a huge opportunity. After Tulane's Lionel Washington intercepted UK QB Larry McCrimmon and returned the ball to the UK six, the Green Wave looking to blow the game open, failed to score. First-year coach Vince Gibson skipped a sure FG attempt, only to fall short on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Wildcats shy of the goal line. Curci's 'Cats responded with a 35y FG as the first half expired making the score 21-6.

L-R: Fran Curci, Nickie Hall, Vince Gibson
In the second half, the Tulane offense stumbled when UK switched to a nickel defense to slow down Hall. In the meantime, the UK offense rallied. ... With 4:05 left in the game, UK led 22-21.
Still, the Tulane offense struggled, forced to give up the ball as time ticked away. The Wildcats ran the clock down, then punted, pinning the Green Wave back to their 8y line with just 0:12 on the clock.
There were no plays in the Tulane playbook designed to gain 92y in 12 seconds.
So Hall just dropped back into the end zone and launched a long prayer toward Anderson across midfield. "They were playing a prevent defense," said Hall. "Coach told me, 'Let Marcus run across the field,' and I told him I'd throw it as far as I can."
Hall heaved it. Anderson reached for it. The ball fell incomplete. Seconds later, a flag fell. DB Chris Jacobs was called for pass interference on Anderson, a spot infraction at the time, translating into a whopping 46y penalty against the Wildcats.
Now five seconds remained on the clock. The ball was placed at the UK 46. Tulane had one more chance. Or did they?
Tulane used their final timeout. Then Hall tried Anderson again, hoping for a miracle at the end of another Hail Mary pass. He didn't get a miracle. He got another flag. Pass interference again on Kentucky. This time, DB Venus Meaux had been singled out, making contact with Anderson before the ball arrived at the 4y line. A 42y penalty. Tulane had been mystically swept from their 8y line to the UK four on a magic yellow carpet ride.
The clock read 0:00. Since the game cannot end on a defensive penalty, Tulane was given one extra play. Beside himself on the sideline, Curci knew what one extra play can mean. Perhaps this was his penance, eight years removed.
Tulane kicker Vince Manalla came on to attempt a 19y FG with no time on the clock. It was the football equivalent of a technical foul in basketball. Manalla made it. Tulane won 24-22.
The Wildcats felt cheated. "It's all that fifth down stuff," said UK reserve HB Terry Henry. "No wonder Tulane is 6-2 (actually 6-3)," added disgruntled RB Richard Abraham.Curci was too mad to talk. "Gentlemen, I ain't got no comment," he muttered to the media before slamming the door behind him. His team was penalized 169y for the game.
Call it redemption. Call it righting a past wrong. But at Tulane, they call it the "Miracle of All-Saints Day."

The Unlikely Showman
Aditi Kinkhabwala, Super Bowl LIII Game Program (2019)
The 1999 Super Bowl shined the spotlight on Kurt Warner's amazing journey from bagging groceries to being a Super Bowl hero - and all the stops in between.
Now that nearly two decades have gone by, now that the 1999 Rams team is officially cemented as one of history's most dynamic - fantastic moniker and all - and now that Kurt Warner is forever enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, London Fletcher has no problem telling the truth.
When Rams head coach Dick Vermeil sat forward in his chair that day in August, when he tearily talked about starting QB Trent Green's devastating injury and promised the world, "We will rally around Kurt Warner and we will play good football," he didn't have many buyers.
"I'm not sure," Fletcher says, "any of us really believed him."
Fletcher, the team's starting MLB, then laughed. Because these days, there are all sorts of folks saying they foresaw Warner's greatness. And every single one of them, Fletcher insists, "is lying."
As the Super Bowl returns to Atlanta, it comes back to the scene of perhaps the most unex­pected, and most magical, of football fairy tales. Before the 1999 season, Kurt Warner was a 28-year-old unknown never-had-been whose biggest body of work came in the Arena League and whose sum total of NFL experience was 39 passing yards. But by the end of that season, when Vermeil, Fletcher, and the rest of the St. Louis Rams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy high above their heads at the Georgia Dome, it was because they'd been buoyed by the arm of Warner. Some might call it "kismet."
"Without question, I hit the perfect storm," Warner says, still marveling a bit, all these years later, at the way the football fates lined up. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you I thought it would work out the way it did."
Warner was supposed to be the Rams' backup QB in 1999, moving up one slot on the depth chart after being the third-stringer the year before. That he'd even made the team - or was in the NFL - was a story in itself. He'd started exactly one year at Division I-AA Northern Iowa. He was his conference's Offensive Player of the Year but then went undrafted, and though the Green Bay Packers brought him to training camp in 1994, they cut him before the regular season even started. ...
Though he had a strong arm and deceiving athleticism, Warner wasn't particularly sea­soned, and so after a year stocking a grocer's shelves for $5.50 an hour, his next opportu­nity came with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. In 1996 and 1997, he played in the Arena League's title game and earned All-Arena honors. After the 1996 season, the Chicago Bears called, offering him a tryout.
He accepted the date and then had to cancel, forgetting that he was getting married on the same day. The Bears gave him a second date, but he got stung by something while on his honeymoon, ran a fever, and had his elbow swell up, and when he tried to postpone again, well, "They never called again," Warner says. ...
After that 1997 season, the Rams signed Warner to a Futures contract and sent him off to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. He played well enough that the Rams kept him stateside in 1998. He ran the scout team and, sure, he'd on occasion shred the Rams' stout defense. But he wasn't getting hit, and he admits never being as good a practice player as he was under the lights of game day. So when the 1999 expansion draft came and every NFL team had to expose five players, Warner was among those St. Louis left unprotected.
Once the (new) Cleveland Browns passed him by, the Rams knew they'd have him back, yet they still went out and signed Trent Green, who had spent the previous four seasons with the Redskins. Warner went back over all that and then chuckles, "Trent was what gave us hope!"

L-R: Kurt Warner in Arena Football, NFL Europe, and the Rams
At that point, Warner says he was just happy to be the backup. He wasn't truly competing for the starting job, and he was very famously offensive coordinator Mike Martz's favorite target.
"Mike would just destroy him. But we all knew what he was doing. Kurt would study and draw, study and draw. He obviously put in the work," Green says. "The thought process was I wasn't going to get hurt and Kurt was going to have time to develop."
Green did, of course, get hurt, tearing his ACL in the team's third preseason game. Green remembers discussions of the Rams trying to talk Jeff Hostetler out of retirement, but even through his own disappointment, he also remembers telling part-owner Stan Kroenke, "If Kurt goes out there and has some early success, it's just going to snowball.
"I thought he had potential. He needed experience," Green says.
Warner got a small dose of experience in the fourth preseason game; then, in the regular-season opener against the Ravens, he threw for 284y and three TDs in a 27-10 win. And, sure enough, the snowball started to roll. Lopsided victories over Atlanta and Cincinnati followed, then came a 42-20 drubbing of the 49ers, a team that had beaten the Rams 17 consecutive times before that game. It was during that week when Warner felt a change in the team.
"The way we came out and just dominated that game early on, we all started believing he had something," Warner says.
"And "someone," Fletcher adds.
"The thing that jumped out at me was Kurt's toughness in the pocket," Fletcher says. "That game, the 49ers came at him. There were times he knew he was about to get hit, and he just would not flinch. He wasn't out there chucking and ducking."
Each week, Warner found more admirers. He was ridiculously accurate, especially under pressure. He could release the ball a millisecond before the rush arrived, he saw the entire field, and he used every piece of what would prove to be an incredibly talented roster.
Looking back now, Warner believes he was uniquely prepared for his opportunity. The stints in the Arena League and NFL Europe gave him more snaps, he said, "than probably any backup in history." And then there was the style o those two leagues; in Arena football, the goal was to put up 50 points every game.
"My mindset was different from guys who play real football. In real football, you score 28 points, and that's a great game. Where I came from, if we punted twice, I was mad," Warner says. "I'm asked a lot if I had the skills for arena football before or if I learned them there? I don't know the answer to that. But I know those skills became my greatest strengths in the NFL."
Fletcher says Warner didn't change in any discernible way as the season went on ... and the Rams racked up wins. ...

L-R: London Fletcher, Dick Vermeil, Mike Martz
The Rams' defense to this day is undersold; it generated turnovers and scored points itself. On offense, the team featured Marshall Faulk, a three-time Offensive Player of the Year, at RB. Rookie Torry Holt joined Isaac Bruce, Ricky Proehl, and Az-Zahir Hakim at WR, and the offensive line, Warner says, was one of the league's best. The unit became immor­talized as "The Greatest Show on Turf."
Warner also had an attacking play-caller in Martz, a man who had designed a truly inno­vative offense that would ultimately set NFL records for scoring and yardage.
"The beautiful thing is that what we did offensively was just a perfect fit for me. It was designed around things I did well," Warner says. "The throws they were asking me to make were right in my wheelhouse. And to the coaching staff's credit, even after Trent's injury, we still came out and did what we'd been doing before: We threw first."
And in Vermeil, Warner had a coach who truly ran a meritocracy. It was universally ex­pected that without a strong year, Vermeil would be out of a job at season's end. Still, he trusted his own eyes and not, as Fletcher put it, "the press clippings on somebody." ...
Warner says he loves to joke that Vermeil's famous tears that 1999 preseason were "not for Trent's injury, but because they were stuck with me." But in the same breath, he adds, "Coach Vermeil believed in me. I'm a very realistic guy and I can see the big picture. It would have been very reasonable for him to say, 'I don't know if we can go down with this guy no one knows about.'"
By the time the 1999 playoffs rolled around, everyone in the football world knew about Kurt Warner and the Rams. They were undefeated at home, owned a conference-best 13-3 overall record, and their 526 points were 83 more than any other team. They beat the Vikings, 49-37, in the Divisional round and then their defense paced them to an 11-6 win over the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.
Against the Titans in the Super Bowl, the Rams racked up yards early, as they always did, but couldn't punch the ball into the end zone. They held just a 9-0 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Warner hit Holt for the game's first TD - but then Tennessee came roaring back, scoring 16 straight points to knot the game with just 2:12 to play.
It was then that Vermeil grabbed Warner and told him that this would go as it always had when he was a big-dreaming kid playing in his yard. And it did. On the first play of the Rams' ensuing drive, Warner hit Bruce in stride at the Titans 38. The receiver raced for the go-ahead TD, and although there was eventually a game-saving tackle from Rams LB Mike Jones to secure the win, that Super Bowl and that season are forever branded as the "Year of Kurt Warner." ...
The Best Manning of All?
"The Next Manning," Ross Dellinger, Sports Illustrated, February 2020
Nelson Stewart had it planned perfectly or so he thought. A few plays into his team's spring game last May, the coach slipped in his eighth-grade quarterback, hoping no one would notice. Stewart soon learned just how long he could keep the latest member of the sport's most fabled family under wraps.
On his very first play Arch Manning audibled at the line of scrimmage, took the snap out of the shotgun and then floated a 25y touchdown pass into his receiver's outstretched hands, video of which garnered more than 2 million views on ESPN's social media platforms. So much for no one noticing. "As soon as he dropped back and threw it, I knew it would exceed expectations," Stewart says. "It was crazy. That's foreshadowing."
Arch is really good at throwing a football, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. He is the namesake of grandfather Archie, a college All-American and the Saints' star quarterback for a decade; the son to Archie and Olivia's oldest child, Cooper, a former Ole Miss signee; and the nephew of Peyton and Eli, future Hall of Famers who have each piloted teams to two Super Bowl victories.
Dozens of college coaches showed up last spring to watch Arch practice. As a 15-year-old freshman he threw for 34 touchdowns during the regular season, more than any QB in the football hub that is the New Orleans metro area. Random men approached him before games for pictures. Two posed as working photographers just to share a sideline with Arch. They were escorted off the field.
Arch has the rich stats, the regal last name and the right build - he's already 6'2", 170 pounds - to be one of the most coveted prospects in the 2023 recruiting class. Yet he has zero scholarship offers.
The reason? His family has declined them.

L-R: Arch Manning; Peyton, Arch, and Cooper Manning
Four miles west of the cobbled streets and raucous music halls of Bourbon Street, the 117-year-old Isidore Newman School sits quietly behind wrought-iron gates in the charming Uptown neighborhood. Prized locally as one of Louisiana's elite secondary education institutions, Newman is known nationally because of one name: Manning.
Archibald Charles Manning is the fourth member of the family to play football for Newman. You don't have to remind him. A retired jersey representing his father and two uncles hangs outside the team's fieldhouse. He lines up for home games within a sports complex that bears his surname. The school's highest athletic honor is called the Manning Award. Arch occupies the position that his grandfather played with guts and flair, one that also helped make Peyton and Eli No. 1 picks in the NFL draft.
Yet neither of Arch's fabled uncles started until their sophomore seasons at Newman. After coach Joe Chango watched Arch complete 19 of 27 passes for 203y and two touchdowns against his Country Day School team this fall, he recalls telling Archie on the field, "That dude is going to be better than any one of your sons."
Arch led the Greenies to a 9-2 record, completing 64.5% of his throws with just six interceptions, and surpassed 200y in all but three games. He can dance in the pocket, cycle through his progressions and spin the ball like an old pro. Arch is a "slam dunk for the future," says Frank Monica, whose St. Charles team beat Newman last season. "His release is so pure, you marvel at the fact that he's just 15." ...
"When it's all said and done, he's going to be the most highly recruited player out of the state of Louisiana," says Mike Detillier, a longtime NFL draft analyst based in New Orleans. "It's going to be a tsunami of recruiting like we've never seen."
For now, though, there isn't a ripple in sight. In an ear of attention-seeking recruits and spotlight-craving parents, the Manning camp has gone dark. Coaches interested in extending a scholarship have been politely told not to bother. "We just say, 'There's no offer to give because there's no offer to receive,'" says Stewart, 42, in his 14th year as Newman's coach and a teammate of Cooper's and Peyton's in the 1990s.
Arch is not on social media, and he's never done an interview. Except for a few benign comments, the usually accessible Mannings declined to speak about Arch for this story or to make him available. "They're very private and protective of Arch," says John Georges, a New Orleans businessman who owns the state's two largest newspapers. "As much as they try to keep a lid on it, there's a buzz. Certain people know how to raise thoroughbreds. The Mannings know how to raise athletes."