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VOL. 45 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 15, 2021

Manning up is a sure way to sway this football fan

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I’m trying to become a Titans fan, as befits a bona fide Nashvillian. But it’s going ... slowly. Here’s the problem:

Geographic proximity is not necessarily a factor in my sports loyalties. I grew up in an area with no professional team nearby until 1967, when the New Orleans Saints debuted 110 miles away.

Even then, I felt no particular attraction to the team, having already developed a pattern of loyalty based on favored players. For whatever reasons, they always happened to be quarterbacks, and still do.

A couple of names seem to recur, too.

My first serious relationship was with the New York Jets because of Joe Namath, he of Broadway nickname and cocky ways.

We shared a first name and, once I embarked upon high school football, a jersey number and position. The position overlap ended when it became clear to my coaches that my arm strength argued for a role that did not include throwing the ball.

I remained faithful to Joe until he departed the Jets, by which time I had another quarterback hero to follow: Archie Manning.

It’s hard to explain to people who were not college football fans in Mississippi in 1968 to 1970 the cultural status that was accorded to Archie even beyond his sports renown.

I’ll never forget the one time I encountered him, as a visiting high school senior on the Ole Miss campus. It was at a homecoming party at Archie’s fraternity, Sigma Nu, on the day his arm was broken against the Houston Cougars. I approached him, told him I was sorry for his misfortune and stuck out my hand.

Archie transferred his Pabst Blue Ribbon can from his right hand to his chest, pinned it there with the cast on his left arm, and shook my hand in acceptance of condolences.

Is it a coincidence that I drink PBR today? Maybe.

Archie was later drafted by the woeful Saints, ensuring that what should have been a Hall of Fame career was instead characterized by flailing failure. While still an enthusiastic Archie fan during those years, I was indifferent to the Saints as a whole.

Then, when they repaid him for his service in 1982 by trading him to the Houston Oilers, I became an implacable Saints enemy.

Fortunately, I soon had another quarterback to follow, and another Joe: This one Montana, who won four Super Bowls with the 49ers. As further testament to my devotion, I became a Kansas City Chiefs fan when he spent his last two years there.

Roughly by the time Joe’s career ended, I had another Manning to follow: Peyton. He made me a Colts fan, and then a Denver fan. And a few years into the Peyton period, I had yet another NFL Manning to follow: Eli.

What’s more, Eli offered an advantage Peyton did not: He played for a team representing the city I lived near and worked in, making geography a factor for the first time. For 15 years I was a faithful – if too-frequently pained – Giants follower, rewarded with two thrilling Super Bowl wins.

(I suspect they might have had three, by the way, had Plaxico Burress not derailed the 2008 season by managing not only to carry a handgun into a nightclub but also to shoot himself in the leg with it. But that’s spilled milk.)

The question now is, how to transfer my quarterback-based allegiance to a Titans team whose quarterback has all the pizzazz and charisma of a tuna salad sandwich.

No offense to Ryan Tannehill (or to tuna salad sandwiches, for that matter). And yes, I know his record with the Titans through Sunday’s win at Jacksonville is 22-11, an enviable ratio. But is this the fellow to inspire the purchase of a cap, T-shirt, polo shirt and sweatshirt?

I have all those items in support of the Giants.

Yes, Derrick Henry is a beast of a running back for the Titans. A.J. Brown is a marvel to watch, and a fellow Ole Miss product. Mike Vrabel strikes me as a stand-up guy, the way Mike Tomlin does for the Steelers. But none of that has translated into any real affection for the Titans.

So while it’s true that I would rather see the Titans win than lose, it’s also true that, should they play the Giants, I’d pull for the New Yorkers. Though Eli has gone into retirement, I find myself somehow invested in his successor, Daniel Jones, who is sort of Eli 2.0, with better legs.

I do have a long-range plan to sell me on the Titans, though. There is a high school junior quarterback in New Orleans now who is a much-prized recruit by colleges across the country. I figure he’ll be entering the NFL in five years or so. If the Titans could manage to land him, that would seal the deal for me.

His name is Arch Manning.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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