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Archie's Family

After a successful NFL career, Manning wrings his hands and enjoys watching his sons hit the grand stage at quarterback

August 30, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The luckiest football father in America couldn't stop fidgeting as he sat on the bed of his Santa Monica hotel room. He rocked from side to side, bounced on his legs, jiggled his feet. Finally, Archie Manning clenched his fists tight enough to crack walnuts and whispered, "Yesss!"

He never took his eyes off the TV, where Indianapolis was playing at Denver in an exhibition game last Monday night. Colt quarterback Peyton Manning had just thrown a touchdown pass, and his proud father -- voted No. 18 among the top 100 college football players of all time -- could barely contain his excitement.

Consider this embarrassment of riches: Archie has one son who's an NFL star; another, Eli, who's an Ole Miss quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful; and the eldest, Cooper, who eight months ago made him a first-time grandfather.

"I've been blessed," said Archie, 54, in Los Angeles this week promoting DirecTV. "I get on my knees all the time."

Knees, feet, stomach, back ... Manning can't sit still when he's watching his sons play -- unless he's attending the game. Then, he shows all the emotion of a granite statue.

"I'm real observant of football daddies, sports daddies, quarterback daddies," said Archie, who played 14 NFL seasons with New Orleans, Houston and Minnesota. "At our camp this year, we had 700 kids and 450 quarterbacks. Little over half of them had their daddies come with them to the camp. They come to practice every day with their kids.

"Everybody always used to praise me [about] how I'd sit in the stands and be calm. I understand daddies that holler and scream at the referees sometimes. You get excited, you want your son to do good, and you act like a fool and say stupid stuff. Fortunately, sometime at an early age in my embryonic times as a Little League daddy, I saw how stupid that looked. I thought, 'This is bad. I don't ever want to look like this.' So I just shut up."

Folksy and easygoing, Manning is sheepish now about all the fuss surrounding his Heisman comments earlier this year. He said that he didn't want Ole Miss, his alma mater, to design a grand-scale promotional campaign touting Eli for college football's most prestigious award.

At first it sounded like sour grapes. Archie was a two-time Heisman finalist, and Peyton appeared to be a lock for the award in his final season at Tennessee before he was nipped at the wire by Michigan's Charles Woodson. It was as if the father were trying to protect his youngest son from the same heartache. But Archie later explained that he simply didn't want Eli swimming in Heisman hype. No billboards. No bobble-head dolls. After all, players who win the Heisman usually come from winning teams, and Ole Miss hasn't won the Southeastern Conference title in 40 years. Why put extra pressure on the kid? It all made sense to Eli.

"There's no point in even worrying about it now," said Eli, a fifth-year senior who has passed for 6,519 yards and has 24 school records. "I'm worried about winning games this season. In two weeks, you can be out of the Heisman race and never be asked about it again."

Eli goes by "Easy E" and is as relaxed as Peyton is coiled tight. The two look alike and have similar 6-foot-5 builds, but the younger brother has a way to go before he's ready for NFL stardom.

"I don't like being called out, people running up to me in a crowd," Eli said. "If I'm in class reading the newspaper and there's a picture of me in there, I'll turn the page right away. I might go back to my room and read it. I don't want anyone to see me reading it, reading about myself."

Peyton is among the most recognizable players in the NFL. He, Rich Gannon and David Carr were the only three quarterbacks to take every snap last season, and Manning is the first quarterback in league history to have thrown for 4,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. If there's a statistic that gnaws at him, it's that he's 0-3 in playoff games, including a 41-0 drubbing by the New York Jets in January.

After that game, he took a break from the real world with a weeklong hunting trip, with no TV, no cell phone, no razor and no worries.

"My dad's best friend has 12,000 acres in central Mississippi," he said. "We'd go duck hunting in the morning, deer hunting in the afternoon. It's kind of like detox from the season."

Peyton is such a perfectionist when it comes to football, he has suggested players should be cut if they laugh on the team plane after a loss.

He's considered one of the smartest quarterbacks in football, a guy whose understanding of the offense is so complete he might check out of two or three plays before the snap. Bobby Fischer in cleats.

"I could tell you every quarterback in the SEC for the last 20 years," Peyton said. "We had to teach Eli the 12 teams in the SEC before he went to Ole Miss."

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