In professional sports, it’s rare we see as much of one family as we do the Mannings. They’re regarded as the First Family of Football, but you don’t hear about First Families of any other sports. That’s because as great as Archie and his sons play on the field, they are even more highly regarded as people and as leaders. That stems from a solid upbringing, and that’s where Olivia Manning comes in.
Tall, blonde, and always rooting for her sons, Olivia Manning is an exemplary First Lady. She is always present to cheer on Peyton and Eli, and has gracefully sidestepped the spotlight ever since her husband was the first overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft.
Here’s what you need to know about Olivia Manning:
1. Olivia’s Family Is Mississippi Royalty
Before she even met Mississippi’s most famous quarterback, Olivia Williams came from somewhat elevated status. He grandfather and great-uncle founded Williams Brothers Store, which has been a thriving business since it’s opening in 1907. The store looks the same since being featured in a 1939 issue of National Geographic, and an article from 2012 notes the store boasts over 50 employees.
The store is a mandatory stop en route to one of the biggest events in Mississippi, the Neshoba County Fair. During the summers the Mannings still move into the family cabin near the fair, and all three Manning boys worked at Williams Brothers during their childhood. The store is currently run by Olivia’s brother.
2. Archie & Olivia Met After She Gave Him a Ride Freshman Year
The Mannings met during their first year at Ole Miss, but it was not love at first sight. They first met when Olivia and friends gave Archie a ride into town from campus. Archie had shaved his head for football season, and didn’t want to talk to women until his red hair had returned. They shared their first dance that spring, when Olivia’s Delta Gamma sorority had a mixer with fraternity Sigma Nu. Her father, an Ole Miss alum who’d always taken Olivia to games, was “real excited” to find out her daughter’s new interest.
The Mannings were married during their senior year, before Archie was drafted first overall by the Saints. The wedding had to take place at the National Guard armory because the country club was too small. They honeymooned in Acapulco, and the day after they returned Archie would begin his career as an NFL quarterback.
3. The Mannings Have Lived in New Orleans Since 1971
Manning wasn’t particularly successful as an NFL quarterback, but he was embraced by New Orleans nonetheless.
“I remember how we’d feel on Monday mornings when Archie was playing. You know, life goes on, you still had to get the kids up, and I’d feel almost like somebody just died, which is ridiculous, but you were so down and the whole city’s mood was like that,” Olivia said in 2012.
Regardless of NFL accolades, the Mannings made a life in New Orleans. As parents, Archie and Olivia were strict without restrictions. The oldest son, Cooper Manning, said that his mom “Had the uncanny ability to be a mother who provided structure and discipline but who was also a running mate.”
“One minute, she’d say, ‘What you did was not appropriate,’ and in the next breath it would be ‘Please put some ice in my margarita,’ but you never misinterpreted the balance.”
4. Olivia Is Closest With Her Youngest Son
Almost seven years younger than the eldest, Eli Manning was labeled as ‘the quiet one‘ of the Manning boys. The age difference gave a different perspective to Eli, who was three when his father retired and never had the practice experiences his brothers did. Even at the dinner table, Eli and his mom shared a common bond.
“Sitting around the dinner table, Cooper kind of ran the conversation,” said Eli in 2008. “He and Peyton and my dad were the ones who carried the conversation. Mom and I never got to do a whole lot of talking.”
Things changed when Peyton left for college, leaving Eli as the only child at home for the majority of five years. Eli and Olivia bonded during that time, making sure the two of them went out for dinner once a week.
Earlier in his childhood, there would be times when Archie was at one of his brother’s games and a babysitter was unavailable. This is how Eli began an affinity for antique shopping, a hobby that manifested out of sheer boredom from following his mom around.
5. She Hangs With Her Grandkids, Who Call Her ‘GoGo’
Stylish and social, Olivia Manning is a frequent host and presenter and charitable events and banquets. But even as the family grows older (Archie is 66), Olivia knows how to stay young. Her most junior companions are her grandchildren, a group which has recently doubled in size.
“Eli’s little girl is Ava and Peyton’s twins are Marshall and Mosley, and Ava and the twins are 9 months old and just 10 days apart, so one day I had three and the next day I had six,” said Olivia.
The oldest are Cooper’s kids- the oldest of whom is 12 and the youngest is nine. The grandchildren call her ‘GoGo’– fitting of her busy lifestyle.