Tales from the NFL: Archie Manning recalls an unbearable night at Soldier Field
The NFL is celebrating its 100th season, and there are many behind-the-scenes stories to be told. Over the course of the season, Times NFL writer Sam Farmer will pull back the curtain and tell some of them through the eyes of the players and coaches who lived them.
The Rams play host to New Orleans in Week 2, and they’ll have to contend with All-Pro Saints quarterback Drew Brees. That quarterback job once belonged to Archie Manning, who spent 10 of his 13 seasons with the Saints.
Manning, the father of star quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, vividly remembers a beating he absorbed late in his career, when he was playing for Minnesota, and Chicago’s “Monsters of the Midway” were on the rise.
In Manning’s words:
Back in 1983, quarterback Tommy Kramer got hurt and the Minnesota Vikings traded for me. The plan was for me to play, but I got something called Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, and wound up on injured reserve.
Bud Grant, the legendary Vikings coach, retired after the 1983 season and was replaced by Les Steckel. I didn’t know a lot about Les other than he was in the Marine Reserves and went to Kansas. I’m not sure how much football he played, but I know he didn’t play in the pros.
It was a tough situation for Les, replacing Bud Grant, and he wanted to do things different than Bud. I understand that, but Bud hadn’t been all wrong. He’d done all right as a coach, after all.
Les was a workout warrior. Golly, he’d work out so hard. He even set up an iron-man contest before training camp. It was brutal, with all these events. Conditioning was a big deal to him.
More than once that season, when he was giving his pregame talk, Les would say, “I wish I could be out there with you today.” A coach shouldn’t really say that. He was young, and he got fired after one year, but I bet if he’d have stuck around, he would have learned not to say that. But he said it a few times.
Like a wide receiver squeezing through double coverage, Antonio Brown found a way to leave Oakland and land with Super Bowl champion New England.
We had Scott Studwell on that team, and he was one of the toughest and most intense guys I’d ever played with. He was one tough middle linebacker. Once, when Les said that in a pregame talk — “I wish I could be out there” — I caught Stud’s eye in the dressing room, and he shook his head a little bit.
I’m 36, in the twilight of a pretty mediocre career, and I’m backing up Tommy. But when we go to play the Bears in Chicago, Tommy is hurt — or, as I always say, at least he said he was hurt. Naw, Tommy was a tough guy. If he said he was hurt, he was hurt.
So I’m starting against the Bears, and they were just so good on defense. The ’84 Bears were just like the ’85 Bears, they just didn’t win the Super Bowl. The defense was the same.
We go to Chicago, and we’ve got a new center, one who hasn’t played before. They have a scheme where they would never bring eight rushers. That’s what our line coach told us all week. They never bring eight.
The game starts, and lo and behold they’re bringing eight. Teddy Brown was our fullback and one of the smartest players I ever played with. He knew his assignments and blitz pickups. He never made a mental mistake.
Well, I’m getting killed. They’re coming from everywhere. Teddy kept turning around, looking at me and saying, “Archie, we ain’t got enough people.” We hadn’t planned on having to pick up eight. “I know, Teddy,” I’d tell him. “I know.”
Todd Gurley led all rushers with 97 yards, but he was only strong in spurts and didn’t seem to be the same relentless playmaker he once was.
The other thing was, this new center. We decided to go entirely shotgun just to be able to get the snap and get rid of the ball because that rush was so great. So this kid was snapping balls through my legs, over my head, over my shoulder. He was young. I figured the line coach or the other linemen were kind of telling him when we’d come off, “Hey, let’s get these snaps right.” I had enough to worry about. I figured somebody else was taking care of that.
Sure enough, we came out in the second half and I said to him — his name was Moose — “Moose, we’ve got to get these snaps right.” He said, “What? Something’s wrong with the snaps?”
I said, “Moose, the snaps are going all over Soldier Field!”
So it’s getting worse. They sacked me 11 times. And I think it was the 11th one — Dan Hampton grabs me from behind, and instead of throwing me down, he kind of holds me up. It’s just a split second. And Otis Wilson just lowered the boom on me. He sent his headgear right up under my chin. Split my chin wide open. I’m kind of concussed a little bit.
I get up, but my helmet’s sideways and I’m bleeding everywhere. Guys from our sideline come get me, and they’re walking me off.
Stud came off the bench and met me right about the hash mark. He grabbed my helmet from the manager.
Finally, when Stud went by Les, he held out my helmet and said, “Here’s your chance.”
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