As football season nears, the Manning family is gearing up.
That's nothing new. What's new to football season though is Manning's Restaurant on Fulton Street. Hundreds of guests are expected to pack the place filled with rotating memorabilia from one of New Orleans' favorite sports families. Harrah's New Orleans and former Saints great, Archie Manning, opened their doors to the Big Easy in January, and this restaurant has quickly become one of the city's most popular places to "eat, drink and cheer." "The atmosphere is upbeat and fun," said Manning. "We have good food, and it's a place where people can enjoy themselves."
Manning said the idea has been in the works for years. "We wanted a sportsthemed restaurant but not a sports bar," he said. "We have a bar, but we wanted good food too. So we combined the good Louisiana dishes with a country Mississippi style." Nearly five years later, it came to fruition.
Perhaps the most eye-catching attraction in the place is the 13-by-7.5-foot flat screen TV in the "End Zone." In there are 17 recliners, making guests feel right at home. "Those are there for people to kick back and enjoy the sporting event on the big screen," said Manning. So far, groups filled in to watch both college and professional basketball contests, and Manning says he was taken away by the big hockey crowd that showed up during the NHL playoffs. He expects the "End Zone" to be a hot commodity come football season. A sports anchor desk is also in there, strategically located to allow for pre, post and game-day coverage of both national and local sports personalities.
The first half of the year has been a training camp of sorts for Manning's, working out the kinks before what should be busier fall and winter months. "We've learned a lot," Manning said. His biggest test came when the city hosted the Final Four in April. "The Final Four was something," he said. "It was a great experience for us to gauge for the Super Bowl in February."
There's a chance, however, Manning will be more engaged more with the game itself. It's not because he's on the Super Bowl Task Force. Though he's been one of the city's most popular faces for the past 41 years and would like "to help," the Task Force is something Manning's not a part of. One of his sons has played in four of the last six Super Bowl games. But on a day-to-day basis, Manning stays involved with the restaurant. "I'm not there four hours every night, and I'm not there every night," he said. "But when I'm in town, I'm there at some point at least every other day." Manning didn't want his name on the place, and when people asked if he ever came by, the answer would be "not very much." Those who dine in often enough will see the former Saints quarterback around, he says.
If you take a look around, Manning's has memorabilia that you can't find elsewhere.
"My wife calls it stuff," Manning said. "We don't have many jerseys around. It's mostly special situations the boys have been in; whether it be a Super Bowl or 'Saturday Night Live.'" Manning has some of his memorable "stuff" around too. "Everything I have is on the verge of being called an antique," he chuckled. If you're not peeking around at the historical photos and keepsakes located around the restaurant, there's a good chance you're glued to one of the 30 flat screens airing the top sporting events.
As his sons Peyton and Eli prepare to lead their respective teams, Denver and New York for the upcoming season, their father embarks on a new one as well. "We don't totally know what to expect but we think it's going to be good," he said.
On The Field
For the first time last season, Manning had just one son to root for as Peyton sat out the entire season with a neck injury.
Though Peyton will be back for the 2012 season, he is no longer with the Colts. He's now moved west to join the Denver Broncos. "It is a transition, but the main thing for Peyton is that he's worked really hard to get his health back, and he's continued to progress," Manning said.
After 14 seasons in Indianapolis, Peyton's found a new home in the AFC after an off-season that proved to be a tough one off the field. Manning said: "He told me it was really hard. He said 'Dad, every team I visited with sounded good.' At the end of the day, he had to make a choice."
On the other hand, Eli and the New York Giants gave Manning plenty to cheer about. The Giants snuck into the playoffs, remained hot, and the former Newman standout captured his second Super Bowl title. "It was really, really fun, especially with them winning in Indianapolis," Manning said. "That city has been a really big part of our family."
Ironically, another city that's been a big part of the Manning's life, New Orleans, is hosting this year's Super Bowl. The Giants and Broncos will likely be playoff contenders. However, the chance of the two brothers meeting against one another in their home city for a Super Bowl title remains slim. "It may sound good but that's not the dream game," Manning said.
"People have to wear the hat of a parent." It would be a script from a Hollywood movie, but not something Manning hopes for.