The First Family of Football’s Leading Lady Has Her Heart in the Right Place
Olivia Williams Manning —wife of former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and mother to sons Cooper, an energy investment firm partner, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton and New York Giants quarterback Eli—is cherished for her lovely Southern charm, her down-to-earth demeanor, her admirable yet often subdued wit and her humble appreciation of her role as leading lady in an All-American football family admired by many.
Like the love, encouragement and dedication Manning has showered her family with, her commitment to charitable causes has been strong and steady for years. Her involvement with the American Heart Association through its Go Red For Women campaign demonstrates that the beautiful former Ole Miss homecoming queen is a true sweetheart in more ways than one.
Created in 2004 by the AHA to bring awareness to cardiovascular disease’s frightening rank as the No. 1 killer of women and to dispel the myth that it was an “older man’s disease,” Go Red For Women is a passionate social initiative designed to encourage and empower women to take charge of their heart health.
Friday, February 3 is National Wear Red Day and New Orleans will take part in the AHA’s mission to make a difference in the lives of women through the Go Red For Women Luncheon that day at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. The event will feature health screenings, sponsor booths, a fashion show, inspiring stories and a “purse”analities-themed silent auction that will feature purses donated and filled with the favorite things of local celebrities and movers and shakers, including Manning. New Orleans Living spent a sunny afternoon at Manning’s beautiful Garden District home, engaging in a heartfelt discussion about the severity of heart disease in women, plus the exciting opening of Manning’s, a sports-themed restaurant on Fulton Street, and life as the gracious, cultured and classy female counterpart of Louisiana’s First Sports Family.
What was the impetus for you to get involved with Go Red For Women?
It was a natural fit because my mother had heart disease. She had her first heart attack when she was just a little older than I am now. It shocked us all because she was thin and I thought calm. When I got that call, I went, “No you’ve got the wrong number; it can’t be my mother.” It turned out she had high cholesterol, which had never been checked, and it was prevalent in her family. Her father died of a heart attack in his 50s. She lived a good full life until she was 86, but heart disease is close to me because of her.
As the No. 1 killer of women, heart disease claims the lives of one in three women per year. What measures do you take to combat that astounding statistic?
That’s amazing to me. And people don’t know about these statistics, so it’s important to get the word out there. Heart disease is manageable and treatable. Making lifestyle changes is important, as well as knowing your cholesterol. I have mine screened each year and do the stress test. I exercise. Living in New Orleans, I try my best to eat healthy. (Laughs). It’s everything in moderation. At times!
A motto to live by! So what would you like to see more of when it comes to raising awareness and fighting heart disease?
Obesity is prevalent in our country. It’s important to get up and get moving. And have that physical each year. I think stress is a problem for everyone. Sometimes you really just need to take a breath and ask yourself if it’s really that important to get that worked up over. Also, if you’re having symptoms, like something doesn’t feel right or feels funny, you have to get that checked out. Sometimes at football games, my chest is pounding and I think, “Is this just nerves or am I having a heart attack?” (Laughs).
Right, the ol’ watching-my-NFL-quarterback- sons-play-induced phantom heart issues! (Laughs). Women are such nurturers to their families, but we don’t pay nearly enough attention to ourselves. Maybe that’s why the cardiovascular disease stats are so high for women.
Oh, right! They’re taking care of everyone else, getting all of them to the doctor. (Laughs). I always laugh about that. Archie would give me one sick day a year, and I hardly ever took it! (Laughs). It’s typical. You’re right about the nurturing. I think most women have annual checkups when they’re having babies. They’ll listen to your heart during checkups, but maybe there needs to be more screening.
A bonus with National Wear Red Day is that you look smashing in red, Olivia! And the guys should wear red in support of the ladies. Does Archie look good in red?
Thank you, Christine! I really like red. It’s a cheerful color that lifts you up. I always wore red lipstick. It’s funny, the grandchildren call Archie “Red” because he used to be a redhead a hundred years ago, but he’s gray now! (Laughs). Yes, absolutely the guys should wear red! Archie wore a red tie for Christmas and looked great.
There’s a brand-new dining option for us here in New Orleans: Manning’s, located on Fulton Street. That’s fabulous! Please tell us all about it.
Yes! It’s exciting. Archie was approached by Harrah’s New Orleans. It’s sports-themed, and it’s got lots of televisions, and there’s this one huge screen. There’s a need for that. It will be great for people who may not be going to the big game but want to watch it at a good spot, and Fulton Street is a good area with lots of people cruising around. It’s going to have great balconies and plenty of room and outdoor tables. The menu is sort of casual Creole with a twist of Southern flair; there will be some nice dishes on it. The chef is Anthony Spizale and he is great! There will be plenty of sports and football memorabilia from New Orleans, our family and the Saints on display. It is going to be great!
I can’t wait to check it out! So what are the Manning family’s Mardi Gras traditions and how will you celebrate it this year?
Our traditions have sort of changed. We’re very close to the parade route, so from the time the kids were in junior high when they could walk to the corner by themselves to when all the college kids were coming in – that was just chaos! I would be like, “Does anybody know who this guy is that just walked in with some outrageous costume?” (Laughs). Now it’s a little calmer. With Cooper’s children, we’re starting with the ladders again. And I can see Peyton wanting to bring his children before long, and Eli his as well. Cooper’s children are May (9), Arch (7) and Heid (6). 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. (Laughs). And during Mardi Gras there’s no football, so this will be a good time for them to come home.
Since Archie was the quarterback for the Saints, how much have you enjoyed settling down here and becoming ambassadors for the city of New Orleans?
Well, I just think of us as living here and loving it. But there are the tour buses that pass by the house, so when I walk out on the porch and catch a tour leader saying, “And this is where the First Family of Football lives,” I’ll say, “Hi! Thank you for coming to New Orleans,” and “Where are y’all from? Come back and tell your friends to visit!” I love New Orleans. The city has so much to offer. We came here right from out of college and getting married, so we’ve been here for 40 years. I always kind of wondered if we’d go back to Mississippi, but as you know, this is a hard place to leave. And with raising my children here, the more involved you get and the more you put down roots. Archie was briefly traded to Houston, after playing here for 12 years, and then he got traded to Minnesota for a year. We just rented a house. It was a good life experience. We were like, “We can do this!” And it got so cold! (Laughs). We had a pond behind our house and one day I said to Archie, “The ducks are gone. They know something I don’t,” and there was a huge snow right after that. I said, “The ducks have gone south and so am I!” We were happy to come home. We could have gone back to Mississippi but our family wanted to come visit us here. We love New Orleans. New Orleans has really been good to us, too. The years when Archie played with the Saints were interesting. There were lean years as far as wins go, but it’s something we’d never trade.
Archie is still considered a hero here. The fans never gave up on him or the Saints.
No, they didn’t. At the games you can still spot a No. 8 jersey–randomly! (Laughs). I’ll say, “Archie, there you are!” (Laughs). It’s funny to see that resurgence. But goodness, it is amazing to see what the Saints have done for the city. And Archie was always hopeful. Some years they’d start with a new coach and he’d say, “This is the year we’re going to get better.” And it’s finally come!
How much have you enjoyed watching Drew Brees and the Saints?
Oh, there’s nothing like it! 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. Lots of games were lost back then, I think 8-8 was the best season Archie ever had, so now, what the Saints are doing for the mood of the city is just great. Archie texts Drew before every game, but maybe not before the Saints are playing the Colts or the Giants! (Laughs). But Drew and Brittany are wonderful people. And I’ve gotten to know Brittany’s mother. They are very special, as are many members of the Saints.
Super Bowl XLIV, when the Saints beat the Colts, must have been a pretty bizarre day for you and Archie.
That was so strange. We felt so badly for Peyton because he was so disappointed. He had won a Super Bowl, but I couldn’t say that to him, because he was devastated. Had he not won one, it would have been worse. You work really hard to get there so you definitely want to win. But it was just bizarre, even more bizarre than when Eli and Peyton play each other. I have such a sense of pride when they play each other. And even at the Super Bowl, it was like, “There’s my child playing my husband’s old team,” so it was really special as well.
I must ask: Do you still call Peyton “Peytie Pie?”
(Laughs). Not in public! (Laughs). But yes, I do. I can’t wait to tell his children that’s what I call him. His teammates had a field day with that!
(Laughs). Ha ha! Peyton has made strides in his recovery. Are y’all hopeful that he will be quarterbacking again next season?
I’m hopeful; I want him to get well. He is pain free and doing well. I mean, he’s played 13 years. As a mom, I’m kind of like, “Isn’t that enough?” But he won’t get back out on the field without full support of the medical staff and training staff. He realizes how serious all of this was, so we’ll just have to wait and see. He was in a tremendous amount of pain, so he doesn’t want to go through that again. But he’s missed it. Peyton is just so driven and devoted. He loves football. I think he’s handled it well. And I think having these twin babies has helped. You come home to these two little smiling faces looking at you, so you kind of forget about things.
You have been so successful at raising your boys. If you would have had daughters, would they have become beauty queens or presidents? (Laughs).
(Laughs). Just normal, happy kids, I hope. And that’s kind of the way I look at my boys. They all like to get together and laugh, and Cooper is the ring leader in that; he doesn’t let anybody get too serious about themselves. You might win a Super Bowl but he’s going to bring you back down to earth! (Laughs). They’re just good, sweet, kind, generous boys.
What is it that still gets you about New Orleans?
It’s the people, like the characters you run into on a taxi ride to the airport. They pick us up and say, “How ya doing, Arch!” (Laughs). They feel like Archie’s their long lost friend, and they remember everything about a game, like when he played for Ole Miss against LSU. I’m overwhelmed by this city’s beauty, especially when we have out-of-town guests in. I just want to show them around, and I see things differently than just the hustle and bustle of St. Charles Avenue. The thought of not being able to go back after Katrina before we knew really what was going on was just about the most disturbing thing ever in our lives. It would be really hard to leave just because of the restaurants! It’s just a wonderful place, it really is. We weren’t born here but we’ve lived here a long time, so it’s just really home.
To join the mission to fight heart disease in women, please go to www.GoRedForWomen.org.