It’s been quite a few weeks for Cooper Manning.
The 39-year-old son of Olivia and Archie Manning and the older brother of Peyton and Eli has a rakish sense of humor, but nothing this side of the blogosphere prepared him for the provocative story on a satirical sports website.
The Sept. 13 post – published just two days before Peyton and Eli, two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks, were to face off against each other in Manning Bowl III in New Jersey – insisted that Cooper had finally had his fill of his glory-hound little brothers.
The “story” portrayed the normally easygoing Cooper, behind his desk in his high-rise, energy stockbroker’s office at Howard Weil with the New Orleans riverfront at his back.
When the interviewer turned his attention from Cooper to ask questions about his brothers, Cooper ripped Peyton for knowing “nothing but football” and Eli for being equally clueless about “energy investment equity.” Energy investments are Cooper’s specialty after his own promising football career at Ole Miss ended virtually overnight in his freshman year when doctors belatedly discovered he suffered from spinal stenosis.
After the story posted, Cooper’s cell phone exploded with calls and texts.
“Oh, my goodness, you couldn’t believe how many people believed that,” Cooper said last week – really – from his office. “I got texts that said, ‘Cooper, you know, you need to watch your language!’ But some of them said, ‘Good for you, Cooper!’
“I got a million calls. A client of mine in Dallas said, ‘This is pretty funny. It sounds like you.’ I went, ‘You’re right, it does.’ The guy who wrote it has a pretty good sense of humor. Then the story just took off like it had a life of its own. Everybody’s grandmother read that thing. A lot of people were like, ‘Boy, you must’ve had a bad day.’”
Those who know Cooper well simply had to laugh. The late Father David Boileau, who brought Cooper into the Catholic faith at Mater Dolorosa Church many years ago, would have been tickled.
Cooper grew up as a Baptist, but as the son of an NFL star living in an overwhelmingly Catholic town, he was a popular house guest of his Catholic friends on Saturday nights.
“I’d go to church with them the next morning sometimes,” Cooper said. “I really started going to Catholic church more in college. At Ole Miss, they had a great 5:30 Mass, and I went with the same group. I always just personally enjoyed the casual attire. You could drop in there in a pair of shorts and a golf shirt, and you didn’t stand out.”
Then Cooper started dating Ellen Heidingsfelder – “she’s a Sacred Heart girl and comes from a big Catholic family” – and they got serious.
“I just decided that if we got married and had children, it would probably be best to be all on the same team,” Cooper said. “I got to know Father Boileau really well. We had him over for dinner a bunch and got to be real close with him. I thought the world of him. He was a big part of the transition into changing my stripes, so to speak.”
Cooper’s parents showed absolutely no reluctance to embrace his decision.
“They were just crazy about Ellen, and they would’ve told me to move to Afghanistan if she was going there,” Cooper said. “That was an easy sell.”
Cooper and Ellen will be married 15 years next March, and they have three children: May, Arch and Heid, who will be making his First Communion this school year at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
“May and Arch are already on the books, and Heid is excited about that,” Cooper said. “When Arch made his First Communion, we had my parents there, and my aunts and uncles came in from Oxford, and we had nice little thing at the house. We made a big deal out of it. We got Arch a new sport coat and a good-looking tie, and he was feeling really high. I think Heid is looking forward to a similar-type celebration.”
Cooper said other than wanting to be more united to his wife, the thing that attracted him to the Catholic faith was the example of Father Boileau, a 6-foot-8 former basketball player at St. Bonaventure University who could answer any question forthrightly. For four years in the 1980s, Father Boileau ran the Human Services Department for the Teamsters.
“I guess it was his consistency with the message of just treating everyone equally,” Cooper said. “He said it a thousand different ways – everybody deserves to be treated as a human being. I always enjoyed his firm and direct approach. It was not sugar-coated. It was pretty much pound the table and almost yelling at you, which, for some reason, I kind of enjoyed. It just reminded me of an old coach I had. There were no mixed messages. You knew exactly where he was coming from.”
The plan didn’t work out for Cooper to play football, but he has handled his serious medical condition with grace and class. The tears he shed during an interview for the ESPN documentary “The Book of Manning” when reflecting on how he might have been one hit away from not being able to walk signaled a man who knows he has been blessed.
And, yes, he loves his brothers. And he loves where he is as a father and husband.
“I feel I was being looked out for,” Cooper said. “I feel very fortunate to have been able to play, and, at the same time, I feel fortunate to have been able to catch things before it could have been a whole lot worse. I’m grateful. Things have turned out pretty good for me.”
And you can tweet that.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at clarionherald.org.
It’s been quite a few weeks for Cooper Manning.