Archie Manning recalls Peyton's football trajectory, agrees with son's retirement

Archie Manning recalls Peyton's football trajectory, agrees with son's retirement
Archie Manning, father of Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning; watches both his sons play on two screens on Nov. 15, 2015. (Michael Nagle / For The Times)

When they were tykes, brothers Cooper and Peyton Manning sat in the stands at the Louisiana Superdome and watched their father, Archie, struggle through another losing season as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.

Next to them sat their mother, Olivia, who was pregnant with their youngest brother, Eli. This was years before they would become the NFL's royal family of quarterbacks. During one particularly bad stretch of the Saints' season, the boys made an earnest request.

"Can we boo, too?"

Archie recalled that story with a chuckle Monday after Peyton announced his retirement. On this day, like so many during the last two decades, the Manning family gathered to cheer Peyton, consuming most of the front row of the auditorium at Denver Broncos headquarters.

Peyton, among the most successful and decorated quarterbacks in league history, faced the daunting challenge of maintaining his composure throughout his speech.

"I wanted him to get through it," Archie said. "He had some tough lines in there. He really does feel so strong about so many things, when he starts talking about them it's kind of hard to get [the words] out.

"Peyton doesn't forget many things. That's the good news about this whole dang thing is he's got so many great memories."

One of those is throwing his first NFL passes — before he played college ball at Tennessee.


It was with his hometown Saints, when his dad was the radio color commentator for games and the Manning boys were always hanging around the team. This was the mid-1990s, when Jim Mora was the coach and Peyton was in his last two years of high school.

Jim Everett was a Saints quarterback at the time, along with Wade Wilson, and remembers Peyton coming to an informal, no-pads practice session and trying to soak in as much information as he could.

"All of a sudden this tall, skinny kid comes out, and he's just kind of watching," Everett said by phone about Peyton. "He's moving closer and closer, and the next thing you know, he's like sticking his head in the back of the huddle. He's wanting to hear every play. He's wanting to know what we're reading. So when Wade's running a play, he's grilling me. Then when I'm in there, I'm sure he's grilling Wade. It's almost to the point of irritating."

Finally, Mora encouraged Peyton to step in and run a few plays.

"It was almost to the point of, the kid was nagging you so much, it was like, 'Why don't you do it?' " Everett said with a laugh. "The funny part about it is he got really nervous. And he's like, 'What do I do?' Finally, he gets in there, and takes that dropback, and he's kind of like Ichabod Crane in there with that long neck. He looks downfield like he's going to throw it, then hits the check-down on the side so he made sure he got his completion."

For Manning, those moments are vividly etched in his mind.

"Playing at a double-A private school, I hadn't played against a ton of speed," he said. "I can't tell you what that did for me, saying I could complete a pass pattern against an NFL corner. Mora letting me come out there was great."

Mora's recollection is slightly different than Everett's. Mora, who later would be Peyton's first NFL coach, in Indianapolis, remembers a kid determined to succeed and ready to make any sacrifice along the way.

"I'm not so sure he was a skinny, gawky kid," Mora said. "Another thing he would do when I was with the Saints, Archie would call and say, 'Can Peyton come over and use your weight room?' I said, 'Yeah.' And there were a couple times where late in the day, I would go over there and maybe I'm on the stationary bike, and the only other person in the weight room was Peyton. I'm doing a cardio, and this guy is over there pumping those weights like an offensive lineman would. He's doing squats and dead lifts, the heavy stuff. That always impressed me."

Whatever the case, football has been coursing through Manning's veins since childhood. He's not sure where he'll go from here, but conceded this isn't the time of year he'd miss the game. He just came back from a quail hunting trip with former teammate Jeff Saturday and is headed to a golfing trip with his two brothers.

"Don't think we'll be playing here," Peyton said Monday, gazing through a window at snowflakes the size of pillow feathers falling on the Broncos' practice field

As for what the future holds?

"He's got a bunch of commitments, corporate speeches," Archie said. "He's good at that, and he'll fulfill those while he considers some other things that will be in front of him. I know the TV folks will talk to him. Peyton's pretty good at figuring stuff out. He won't jump at anything. He'll lay everything on the table."

Archie said he knows this much: Peyton is "at peace" with his decision.

"It's time," Archie said. "That's the way it was with me. It was time. … I always hate it with former teammates of mine, good friends, who got cut and were just bitter for so long. They just couldn't get over it.

"I think that's the great thing about Peyton stepping away. He's not mad at anybody. He's got two fantastic relationships with two great organizations. Great memories."