Two notable Ole Miss Alumni will be facing off in the NFC championship game this Sunday. Two players, of amazing physical skill at their respective positions, once played together in college for a year when Eli was a senior and Patrick Willis was a freshman. But they followed two starkly different paths in life to arrive for this much anticipated game.
One, Patrick Willis; born in a run-down, double-wide trailer, in Bruceton, TN, was one of four children, raised by a single father with emotional and substance abuse issues. Patrick at the age of four, along with his older brother helped care for the younger children after their mother left. Somehow surviving without much help from his father, Willis and his siblings were recognized for their plight by authorities after an attempted assault on his sister by father Ernest.
Facing the reality of seeing the family separated into different foster homes, middle school aged Patrick and all three of his siblings were taken in by a 25 year old couple who were teachers in their school. Julie and Chris Finley, knew they were not taking a huge risk as the children were older and more mature than their ages due to their home life. Initially taking in the oldest child Orey, they quickly found themselves doing whatever it took to keep the family together.
What began as a temporary solution, the Willis’ have forever become a part of the Finley family. While not recognized in a Hollywood movie plot, the Finley’s story is perhaps four times harder and four times more inspiring than the well known Sandra Bullock epic. (Of which all Ole Miss Alumni own a copy and watch at least once a week).
The other, Eli Manning; the third brother in the first family of football, grew up in the gentile luxury of the garden district of New Orleans, and raised in the steady warmth and glow of the love of two parents and the entire city. Eli was afforded the best in private school education and never had to wonder where his next meal was coming from.
Peyton, along with Cooper, and the old field general Archie, could not have provided better examples for young Eli on the level of dedication required to play football at a high level and excel in the NFL. While always Peytons' receiver, Eli picked up a few QB skills of his own along the way, until today when he is on the verge of one up-ing Peyton in Super Bowl wins. Beating the older brother, just as all younger brothers hope to do.
While it’s hard to find as much inspiration in Eli’s story as Patrick’s, other than the awe-inspiring numbers he has in the books, both of these guys are the best ambassadors The University of Mississippi could ever ask for. They are almost too nice, too good to be true, both on the field and off.
After Sunday’s game one of these guys will walk off triumphant and one will deal with defeat, but there is no question that both of these guys are winners.