Faith, Friendship and Football: The Mannings & The Van Devenders

Jackson, Miss. (WJTV) – For a Jackson family, whether it’s Peyton or Eli on the field for a Super Bowl, they’re there. Sunday night, the Jackson family was in California celebrating the big win for Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

WJTV’s Melanie Christopher had the opportunity to talk with Billy and Mollie Van Devender about the remarkable friendship they have with the Mannings. It’s a friendship that started on the gridiron and one where football still plays a role.

“You know Archie was pretty famous right out of the shoot, and he got a lot of attention. But it was amazing how he didn’t let any of that show. He was never cocky about it or anything else,” Billie Van Devender said.

When the two played football together at Ole Miss, Van Devender remembered living in the dorms. He said when the phone would ring, they’d yell for Archie to come. “The phone would ring and they would holler out the person’s name that the phone was for, so that was a lot of fun,” said Van Devender. “But he (Archie) did get a lot more calls than anybody else. They didn’t call my name very often.”

The rest is history – 50 years worth.

“He’s such a fine Christian person, and we just enjoy that and share that faith together and really enjoy each other’s company,” he said.

And it doesn’t stop there. Van Devender says both of their families have formed a bond.

“It turns out that our children, they do things together, and my wife and Archie’s wife, Olivia, are best friends too. They are as close or closer than Archie and I,” said Van Devender.

He says everyone in his family was excited to go to Super Bowl 50 to watch Peyton play.

It’s been a very exciting year for the Van Devenders and Mannings. “We share a suite up in Oxford and watch the game together, and it was a fabulous year for us,” he said.

Forty-six years after Billy and Archie played in a winning Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, they returned to see another Ole Miss victory.

“It was as much fun as we’ve had since we played,” he said.

Both Billy and his wife Mollie say they modeled their child rearing around the way Archie and Olivia raised their boys – to work and give back.

All three of the Manning Boys worked summers at the Williams Brothers General Store in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was founded in 1907 by Olivia Mannings grandfather, and it is still run by family members today.

Billy recalled watching the boys grow up in New Orleans: “I would go down to stay with them, and they would ride in with the trikes and bring us stuff out of the refrigerator – I won’t talk about what,” he said. “They would put them on the back of the tricycle while we were watching television and take care of us.”

Mollie Van Devender says watching the Manning boys play football was like watching one of their own sons. She shared a little bit of her experience watching games with the Mannings when Peyton or Eli is on the field.

“Archie has bitten his nails a lot farther than I thought they could ever go,” Mollie Van Devender remembered.

She also said “Olivia is pretty much the lady. She is very tame, very composed and I feel her screaming inside. I’m the cheerleader, and I’m the one that’s taking up the slack for her composure,” Mollie Van Devender said.

If you would like to know more about the history of the Williams Brothers General store, you can click here.


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