Peyton Manning could have chosen any number of people to be his presenter when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Archie Manning knows it.
“Peyton could have chosen Jim Irsay, who was so good to him as owner of the Indianapolis Colts,” Archie Manning said in a phone conversation Tuesday. “He could have chosen Bill Polian, the general manager who drafted him. He could have chosen either of his brothers, Cooper or Eli, and I surely would have been fine with that. He could have chosen Tony Dungy or another of his many coaches for whom he has so much respect.”
But if you know the Manning family — and especially if you know Archie and you know Peyton — you knew Peyton would opt for his dad to unveil his Hall of Fame bust at Canton, Ohio. There was absolutely no doubt.
“I am honored and I am thrilled,” Archie Manning said. “I have enjoyed the journey and I am going to enjoy this.”
Archie and his wife, Olivia, will fly to Canton from New Orleans on Friday and will attend the Hall of Fame’s annual gold jacket dinner that night. On Saturday night, Archie will be on stage and will take the cover off Peyton’s Hall of Fame bust. It will be a family affair. Eli Manning and his family will be there. Cooper Manning and his family will attend. More than 100 of Peyton’s former teammates have made arrangements to go, which tells you something about Peyton Manning right there.
Archie Manning has no live speaking part in the program. The NFL already dispatched a film crew to New Orleans to tape his remarks, which will be part of the presentation. Of course, Peyton will speak. Never one to under-prepare for anything, Peyton wrote his speech and has practiced it. Archie has read it.
“I think he nails it,” Archie Manning said.
Everyone who keeps up with pro football at all has known for years that Peyton Manning would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His numbers boggle the mind: five times an MVP, two times a Super Bowl champion, 14 Pro Bowls, nearly 72,000 passing yards, 539 passing touchdowns.
Still, says his father, “I don’t take this for granted and I know Peyton doesn’t. He never has talked about the Hall of Fame with me, except to talk about teammates. He was so happy when Marvin Harrison went in. He’s thrilled to be going in with Edgerrin James. When this class was announced, I really believe Peyton was more thrilled for his good friend John Lynch than he was for himself.”
Archie Manning says Peyton’s Hall of Fame induction has sparked no small amount of reflection on his part.
“I think about coming out of the locker room in the Superdome and Peyton and Cooper, little guys then, would be playing with each other, using rolled up tape for a football,” Archie Manning said. “I think about all those games out in the backyard. You know, Cooper is two years older and when his friends came over to play, Peyton was out there with them and they would beat him up pretty good. I don’t think there’s any doubt that’s where a lot of his toughness came from. I mean, they didn’t cut him any slack. Peyt had to be tough.
“I think about when Cooper was a high school senior and Peyton was a sophomore — the one year they got to be teammates — and just how much fun that was,” Archie continued. “Peyton threw and Cooper caught and they were so successful. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a football season more than that one.”
Archie Manning was 20 when his ailing father took his own life. At the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami, before Peyton’s Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17, Archie Manning talked about his father, Buddy Manning.
“What I regret most are the things I could have included him in,” Archie told me. “There was so much in those next two years at Ole Miss and then in pro football that I could have included him in, the places I got to go, the things I got to do, the people I got to meet. He would have loved it. Man, he would have loved it.”
That probably has much to do with why Archie would fly back to New Orleans almost nightly so he could have dinner with his family after he was traded from the Saints to the Houston Oilers. That’s why he has never missed a game his sons played if he could help it. That’s why he has always been there to lend advice and support, but not to get in the way — same with Olivia Manning.
“Archie and Olivia are the gold standard for parents,” said Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Ole Miss. “I don’t know any other way to say it. They are the gold standard. You see it in all three of their sons. I am not talking about just the football. I am talking about the manners, the way they act, the teammates they are, the students they were, the men they have become.
“I have always believed that the most difficult test in life is how you handle success, not failure,” Cutcliffe continued. “Those three sons have handled success as well as you can ever imagine. For lack of a better word, they could have been brats but they have been the total opposite. They’ve all given back. The way they handle themselves — the work ethic they all have — is a credit to Archie and Olivia. It’s just beautiful. If more people lived like that, we’d have a whole lot better world.”
I am reminded of the passage from John Underwood’s fine book, “Manning,” where Peyton talks about a visit to Drew with his father when they visited Buddy Manning’s grave.
Said Peyton, “Dad got a little emotional telling me about it….He said what a shock it had been. Then he said he knew his dad loved him but never told him so, and I was reminded of how often he tells us — Cooper, Eli and me. How he never ends a telephone call without letting us know. How he’s always there for us. I think I really began to feel it when I was 17 or 18 and Cooper was 19 or 20, which was the corresponding time in life when he lost his dad. I’d feel it when he put his arm around me. I’d feel it in the empathy and the caring he’d always show for what was going on in our lives. So I understand now, and it’s not complicated at all. What he missed, he never wanted us to miss. But what explains him best of all is the part we had already grown accustomed to. The love part.”