The manning dynasty: an inside look at the first family of quarterbacking – Special Section: Family Ties – Cover Story

Barry Wilner

ELI’S COMING! THE THREE Dog Night favorite from yesteryear is a song many NFL scouts soon will be singing. For if there is one thing just about every pro football team is looking for, it’s another Peyton Manning.

And Eli’s coming.

Eli Manning is the hot-shot young quarterback at Mississippi. Following in the footsteps of his father, Archie, Eli has gotten off to a terrific start with the Rebels.

Of course, the kid can’t go wrong emulating his dad, who was only the greatest offensive player in Ole Miss history. Or in copying his brother, who might be the best quarterback in the NFL right now and was an All-American at Tennessee.

Quite a family, these Mannings: polite, respectful, studious, energetic, athletic, resourceful.

Oh, yes, and very successful.

“They’re kidding me about who is the best quarterback in the family,” Peyton says of his Indianapolis Colts teammates. “After Eli threw for five touchdowns against Murray State [this season], I talked to [Colts offensive coordinator] Tom Moore. I told him we have to find a way to throw six TDs. He got the jump on me by throwing five. But we are not playing Murray State, I guarantee that.”

Eli set school records with 18 straight completions and those five touchdown passes in his first start as a Rebel. No, not even Archie ever achieved anything like that.

“I don’t know if I have ever completed 18 in a row in practice,” says Eli, who entered the 2001 season opener with 16 career completions. “I just went out and competed and did not really worry about it.”

Archie never really has had to worry about how Peyton or Eli would fare. Although Peyton opted for Tennessee rather than Mississippi as a collegian, he rarely took a step backward as a Volunteer. Same thing as a Colt.

“I would have loved for Peyton to go to Ole Miss, but I wanted him to make the decision of what was best for him, and Tennessee certainly worked out fine,” Archie says.

And Eli–who, unlike Peyton, didn’t play much as a freshman–is mature enough to handle the accolades and the pressure of the starting job as a sophomore with the Rebels. Just as his father and brother were.

“I certainly never had any aspirations for them to play college and pro football,” Archie says. “I never tried to push them toward that. That’s just what they wanted to do.”

Archie might not have pushed, but as Eli explains, it was no accident that the two sons became QBs. “If we asked him to go throw with us, he’d teach us the five-step drop,” Eli says. “It probably wasn’t a huge coincidence that we were both quarterbacks.”

As kids, the Manning boys had oldest brother Cooper as a target. Cooper, a wide receiver, went to Mississippi but never played a game for the Rebels. A spinal cord disorder left him prone to serious injury. Before that misfortune, Cooper, then a senior at New Orleans Newman High, caught 80 passes from Peyton. Cooper was an all-state receiver two times, and Peyton is certain his eldest sibling could have been a star in the NFL.

Cooper now works in energy research and also co-hosts a radio show with his father. He has no regrets, considering the potential for disaster he faced as a player.

“You’re one hit away from a wheelchair,” he says. “You find other things to do. You concentrate on being the best student you can be while in school. Then you concentrate on being the best at your job. And you always want to be the best person you can be.”

Cooper still spends a short part of his summers with Archie, Peyton, and Eli at the Manning Passing Academy in Hammond, La. On the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University, more than 400 high school players gather to learn the intricacies of throwing and catching footballs. It was Peyton who crone up with the idea of establishing a summer camp for high school players as a way for the family to help boost the passing game in high schools throughout the nation.

“It’s kind of boring to me if teams never, throw the ball,” Peyton says. “In high school, you see a lot of that, so maybe this camp helps open it up.”

Besides, Peyton enjoys being the instructor, sharing the knowledge his father and his various coaches imparted to him.

“Kids don’t want you to just coach them for 10 minutes and then sit down,” Peyton says. “They want you to get in line with them and throw with them. They think it’s kind of a cool thing that a pro quarterback would get in the, same line as them. It helps to come down to their level. Instead of acting like a guy who is so far above it, you maybe throw an interception and they realize you are a pretty normal guy.”

Normal? The star of the first family of quarterbacking–although the Grieses might give the Mannings a pass, uh, run for their money–really does come across as a regular guy. Teammates tell stories of just how unassuming, even dull, Peyton can be.

“I don’t think you’d want to party much with Peyton,” one member of the Colts says. “His idea of a good time is watching film and eating pizza, I think. He’s kind of boring.”

Not on the field. Manning, a true student of the game; has learned his lessons so well that Moore and coach Jim Mora trust him implicitly. Change a play at the line of scrimmage? Go ahead. Use the no-huddle offense for much of the game, as the Colts did in befuddling the New York Jets earlier this season? Why not? Accept Peyton’s input for game plans? Absolutely.

“It is difficult to single out one thing about Peyton that most stands out,” Mora says. “Probably there are two things that most impress me, although he has so much going for him that I like everything about him. You really don’t know about a guy until you coach him, and the first thing you see is he has a tremendous work ethic. He is always well prepared.

“And he is an extremely competitive young man. Winning is so important to him. This job of his of playing quarterback in the NFL and being with the team, he is really into it. He wants to win, prepares to win. It just consumes him.”

The NFL consumed Archie in a much different way. Actually, it ate him up. Not because he didn’t have the talent or the desire, but because he was drafted by the horrible New Orleans Saints, who never improved.

Archie deserved better. There are people who were involved in the NFL in the 1970s and ’80s who will tell you that Archie’s career was among the most unappreciated in the game’s history. Unlike, say, Jim Plunkett, who eventually landed with the Oakland Raiders and won the Super Bowl, Archie never got that chance. Even when he moved on to the Minnesota Vikings at the end of his NFL career, it was too late.

But you won’t hear him complain about, such disappointments. “There’s an old saying that fame is a fleeting thing, and I was very cognizant of that,” Archie says. “When I finished football, that was fine with me. I had no problem with that, with people not asking for an autograph or being recognized in an airport. I expected it.”

Archie has provided help to his sons in ways other than tips on technique or pointers on passing the football. “He’s given me more advice off the field,” Peyton says. “How to handle the media attention and the autograph requests, and how to be a quarterback in a high-profile situation.

“He knows kind of how the whole system works. It’s good to have somebody who can give you good advice on those things. But you’ve got to remember what your priorities are. When you’re playing, what you do on the field is the most important thing. In the offseason, you have some time for public appearances and some endorsement-type situations. Those are nice to have.”

It’s also been important to both Manning boys that David Cutcliffe was around to coach them. Cutcliffe worked directly with Peyton as the Volunteers’ offensive coordinator. He then moved up to become the head coach at Ole Miss, landing Eli as his prized recruit. “David Cutcliffe was just the right coach for me, and I think Eli can tell you the same thing,” Peyton says.

Cutcliffe, however, deflects the credit back to the Manning family. “Peyton benefited greatly just from the way he was raised,” Cutcliffe says. “He benefited first as a person from the good things he was taught, and secondly as a player.

“Being Archie’s son, he learned a lot about how to handle the situations around football: the hoopla, the challenges, the good and bad that go with being a quarterback, and how to keep on a level emotionally.”

Eli is the same way, although his achievements haven’t received as much attention as those of his older brother. While Peyton’s Vols almost always seemed to be on national television, Eli’s Rebels haven’t gotten the same media treatment.

But it’s probably coming, especially after Eli’s work in last year’s Music City Bowl, leading to his big debut as a starter. Ole Miss was down 35-9 to West Virginia at the half in the Nashville bowl. Eli was inserted at quarterback in the fourth quarter and proceeded to throw the first three TD passes of his college career.

Then cane the demolition of Murray Stale, leading Cutcliffe to say: “I think he threw the ball where he should 100% of the time, and we really like that.”

In that game, was Eli reminiscent of another quarterback who once played at Ole Miss? Or one who recently played at Tennessee?

Cutcliffe wouldn’t say. He just smiled knowingly.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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