I think Eli has grown up a lot from last year to this year. Being a
captain of the team, being a senior, he's with all these guys who
came in with him as freshmen. He's very, very comfortable in his
new role, in which he's being asked to do more than just be the
quarterback. [See page 157.] He's having a ball. Winning makes it
all fun. But it's a long season.
"I don't think Eli has tapped his full potential, though. He has
a very live arm, and I think he's got a big upside. He has a
chance to be a really, really good quarterback. But when people
say, 'I think Eli's going to be the best [of all the Mannings],'
they're full of it. He might end up being great, but I don't see
how you can be better than Peyton.
"He'll mature. The jump from high school to college is huge, but
the jump from college to pro is even bigger. Eli's going to be
wild-eyed and have his head on a swivel next year. I think
experience and playing games will prove invaluable to him. If you
ask Peyton what helped him most as a pro, he'll tell you it was
that first year, going 3-13 and having his coach, Jim Mora, stand
behind him and say, 'You're our guy. Throw a hundred
interceptions, and I'm sticking with you.' I think Mora deserves
a lot of credit for that.
"Eli hasn't had a real bad day yet. It's funny, but it's easy to
compare the Colts and Ole Miss. It's remarkable how similar their
ups and downs have been. Historically, both have had offenses
that could put up a lot of points and defenses that surrendered
more points. The last couple of years on offense Eli has panicked
because he felt if he didn't put up a lot of points, he was
letting the team down. But every now and then you're supposed to
sneak in a 9-6 win. Until this year Ole Miss just didn't win
those games; we weren't even in them. If we had six points, the
other team had 48. So the idea of Eli's throwing for 145 yards
[on Oct. 25] and beating Arkansas 19-7--that's a new type of game
for us. The team is just better.
"I don't care how good you are at quarterback, if the team is not
playing well, the individual highlights are going to be minimal.
The ball has bounced right for Ole Miss the last couple of games,
but Eli is quick to admit that he isn't on a team that's so good
that all he has to do is show up. He'll have to play his best
every week if he expects to win."
COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON OLE MISTER Eli's arm and knack for leadership should take him tothe NFL.