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Unsung Manning sibling a player in investment field

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Cooper Manning, who’s about to attend the third Super Bowl in four years involving a team led by one of his brothers, was looking for shelter from his family fame when he stumbled into the oil patch after college.

The 35-year-old Manning, a partner at energy investment firm Howard Weil Inc. in New Orleans, passed up jobs to become a broadcaster or a sports agent because he’d be forever pegged to his younger brother Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback just won a record fourth National Football League Most Valuable Player award and will lead the team against the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Miami.

Cooper Manning, who is 6-foot-4, was recruited to play wide receiver at the University of Mississippi. His football career was cut short when his doctors diagnosed a congenital narrowing of the spinal canal. He said he has no regrets about how things turned out.

“The energy business is kind of a good ol’ boy business,” he said in a telephone interview. “If you can drink a cold beer and make somebody laugh, you can probably get up the ranks quicker than other folks. I kind of fit in.”

Manning, whose youngest brother, Eli Manning, led the New York Giants to victory in the 2008 Super Bowl, graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He then worked a few odd jobs on radio talk shows and traveled around the country interviewing to be a sports agent.

As the oldest son of Archie Manning, who starred at quarterback for the Saints in the 1970s, Cooper Manning may have had more doors open to him than the average 22-year-old. He said he decided to “get off scholarship from my parents” and took a sales job in New Orleans at a small company, Seismic Exchange Inc.

After three years of selling seismic data, which oil and natural-gas producers use to help identify petroleum deposits, Manning said he heard about a job at Howard Weil in 2000.

Manning, who befriended current Saints quarterback Drew Brees out of a love for “southern hospitality,” said he was due for a culture shock. He now sells energy stocks to institutional investors.

“This is a pretty greedy industry,” he said. “I grew up where you weren’t supposed to talk about money. You just never mentioned it. You all of a sudden get into a business where the whole premise of all your clients, all they’re trying to do every day is generate returns and make money.”

Colleagues on the 35th floor of the firm’s headquarters overlooking the French Quarter said Manning has become one of Howard Weil’s top sales people. Manning was part of a group of employees who pooled their money to buy the firm when its previous owner, Legg Mason Inc., included the unit in a December 2005 asset swap with Citigroup Inc.

“He’s just one of the greatest guys you’d ever want to be on the field with,” said Andrew Rosenberg, a partner at Howard Weil. “The fact is, this is his playing field.”

Manning said he doesn’t try to exploit his family’s celebrity status. One client who learned of the connection after four years of working with Manning was angry that he hadn’t told him.

“It didn’t pop up,” Manning said. “If you can’t help people make money, that sort of stuff will fade pretty quick. I have a lot of clients who don’t give a hoot about football, much less Peyton and Eli.”

“Coop,” as Manning is known to co-workers, is both a class clown and a hard worker, said Paul Pursley, president of Howard Weil.

Tony Reginelli coached the two older Manning brothers at the private Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. Eli Manning, who is almost seven years younger than Cooper, played there after Reginelli retired.

Peyton Manning, 33, was always “jumping on players” in the huddle and demanding perfection, Reginelli said. “Cooper comes in and he probably tells them a joke and relaxes them.”

It’s no different today when Cooper and Peyton talk on the phone. “We talk about everything under the sun,” Cooper Manning said. “Maybe just touch on the game a little bit, but mostly about something to keep his mind off of it and tell him something that’s funny.”

Cooper Manning said he last saw Brees on Jan. 9, when the Saints quarterback and his wife came to his house to watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

“My kids hounded him in their full Saints gear,” Manning said. “He’s a hard guy to pull against.”

As the Saints play in their first Super Bowl after more than four decades of trying to get there, family ties won’t allow Manning to root for his hometown team.

“It’s a little awkward,” he said.

His brothers’ success makes it all the more difficult to hide in the shadows.

“With those guys getting more notoriety, it’s been a little more difficult to remain anonymous,” Manning said.

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