By Scott Coopwood, HT.com blogger
A couple of nights ago, my family I and watched The Book of Manning, an ESPN documentary on football great Archie Manning and his rise from Drew, Mississippi to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history. The documentary captures the entire Manning family in a special way other film makers have tried, but have come up short.
The film opens with black and white photos and early home movies of Archie and his family in Drew living the Mayberry existence. Many may not realize Archie was also a great baseball and basketball player in high school.
Born on May 19, 1949, Archie’s childhood and teen years at Drew High School were all about sports as the documentary underscores. He was selected in the Major League Baseball Draft four times, first in 1967 by the Braves twice by the White Sox, and finally by the Royals in 1971. However, Archie says in the documentary his one and only goal when he was a teen was to play football at Ole Miss. That dream came true and for three years he was the starting quarterback at Ole Miss. In the first nationally televised prime time broadcast of a college football game in 1969, he threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 104 yards, in a 33–32 loss to Alabama. While Ole Miss came up short, Archie did not and that broadcast catapulted Archie into the national spotlight.
The sad part about Archie’s rise, as the documentary highlights, is his father’s death by suicide that took place in the Summer of 1969. That left a terrific void in Archie’s life as his father did not live to see Archie’s success.
Archie led Ole Miss to great wins and his time there will go down in the history books as some of Ole Miss’ best years in a variety of ways. After Ole Miss, in 1971 he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and played for ten full seasons. Unfortunately, Archie was surrounded by a team that did not match his talent as the Saints experienced nine losing seasons. Nevertheless, he was well respected by his NFL peers. Manning ended his pro career with the Houston Oilers and the Minnesota Vikings.
Ole Miss fans began to think they were going to relive the Manning dream when oldest son, Cooper, signed on to play as a wide receiver for the Rebels. Cooper never caught a collegiate pass. Just as he was entering Ole Miss, he began suffering from numbness in his hands. The Mayo Clinic diagnosed him with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. If Cooper moved forward with playing for the Rebels, he would be one hit away from being paralyzed or worse. Cooper’s career was over before it began and Archie says in the documentary that one of the darkest days in his life was telling his son he would never again play football.
Ole Miss had a second chance at reliving the Manning story when Archie’s second son, Peyton, a high school standout quarterback was ready to attend college. However, Peyton decided to play for Tennessee instead of Ole Miss and Rebel fans were horrified. Archie took the brunt from Ole Miss fans for Peyton’s decision. However, A few years later, the third time was the charm and when youngest son, Eli, signed on to play quarterback for the Rebels. An excitement took over the Ole Miss campus that had not existed since Archie’s days, some 30 years before. Eli led Ole Miss to great victories and the Manning magic was back in Oxford.
Watching The Book of Manning, I felt as though I was reliving a part of my life. Growing up in the small Delta town of Shelby, just a few miles away from Archie’s home in Drew, I was absolutely “Archie’s biggest fan” as so many proclaimed back then. Archie was a wonderful role model for young boys in the state and to me, he was as popular and as important as Elvis. I think most Southerners felt that way.
I went away with something else after watching that ESPN special … besides Archie’s football achievements, perhaps his greatest has been as a husband, dedicated father, and great American.
The Book of Manning is a must see. I’m proud of Archie and proud he is from the Mississippi Delta.
We need more people like Archie in the country today.