— With the country’s biggest tennis tournament now in progress and the dawn of another football season upon us, it’s time once again to be thankful for what matters most: family.
Two, in particular: the Mannings and Williamses.
We don’t need further evidence to know the Mannings and Williamses mean as much to sports as the Corleones did to fictional organized crime and the Jacksons to pop music and the Simpsons to animation, but they’ll give us more, anyway. Serena and/or Venus will shake up the U.S. Open. Peyton and/or Eli will make a serious playoff run. The sisters and brothers will bring more fame to the family name and convince us that we may never see this again in our lifetimes.
Two sisters who own tennis?
Two brothers who can compare Super Bowl bling?
All at the same time?
Whoda thunk. This sounds like something concocted in a lab filled with vials of crazy genes and chromosomes, not in the backyard of a New Orleans home and a rickety tennis court in South-Central LA, where a pair of family dreams were born. And that’s interesting. The raising of Eli and Peyton was as different from Serena and Venus as you could imagine: white/black, well-off/broke, boys/girls, pro dad/weekend warrior dad, football/tennis. But the end result looks the same. The duos have carved quite a distinct place in history that we won’t soon forget.
Even better, they’re entertaining and interesting, in addition to being good. Eli plays in the Big City and keeps an amazing disposition (never too up or down) that helps him survive in a town that thrives on turbulence. Peyton is one of the few quarterbacks (Elway, Marino) to demonstrate an ability to win without being surrounded by a handful of Hall of Famers on offense. Serena hits harder than Ray Lewis and brings fire, while Venus, more like ice, floats gracefully around the court.
Last year they did a commercial together and Eli said of Venus and Serena: “They reminded me of us.”
Uh, maybe the sisters are a bit more accomplished. They’ve won four of the past six Grand Slam events and 17 of the past 39, meaning, not many big tournaments manage to swerve past Venus or Serena. And the tournaments that do aren’t worth watching. Those two, who helped pushed the women’s final in the US Open to prime time, are carrying women’s tennis. They’ve also redefined the game by introducing power and the occasional revealing outfit. And other than maybe Danica Patrick, you can’t find a more visible or bankable American female athlete.
Meanwhile, if Peyton hasn’t been the best pure passer in the game this decade, he’s close enough. As a franchise quarterback, his value to the Colts goes beyond the field. Their marketing, ticket-sales and season depends primarily on him. Just the same, Eli just signed an enormous contract for a team that moves into a $1 billion stadium next season. The Giants first spent heavily on Eli when they essentially gave up Phillip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding on draft day, a price that seemed ridiculously high at the time. But the Chargers don’t have a Super Bowl victory to show for it. The Giants do.
The sisters and brothers aren’t perfect. No family is. Venus and Serena have been long accused (without any evidence) of “throwing” matches when they play against each other. They also refuse to play a full schedule, and when she loses against someone other than her sister, Serena isn’t always quick to give the winner much credit.
Eli? He told the Chargers (via Archie Manning) to screw off and forced a trade to the Giants. His “greatness” as a player could be confined to one month in a career that’s otherwise defined by consistency and a wobbly throw caught by David Tyree. For years, Peyton couldn’t come up big in the postseason, especially against Tom Brady, and nit-pickers might look at his lone Super Bowl victory (matching him with Rex Grossman) and snicker.
Point is, none of that matters, because this unique situation wouldn’t exist if the brothers and sisters couldn’t play a little. And for that, you must give credit where it’s due: the parents. Archie and Olivia raised their boys well, and Archie was experienced enough to let them follow their heart, rather than push them into sports. Then he caught a break when their heart, wouldn’t you know, was in football and playing quarterback.
Richard Williams comes across as a flake in public and he’s infamous for making nutty comments about his daughters and stuff in general. But his daughters are as normal as can be; he didn’t push them on tour when the tennis establishment thought he was crazy for limiting their schedules as juniors. Remember, he didn’t come from a tennis background and taught his daughters the game on the fly. He and Oracene Price must’ve done something right, even though they went completely against the book.
What we have, then, is a pair of improbable stories that are still unfolding. Eli and Peyton and Venus and Serena are smart, rich, gifted, champions and conduct themselves well. This isn’t a reason to hate, but appreciate, and hope that your kids, in whatever they choose to do, turn out like this.
Chances are, one of them will.
But two of them?