The ESPN films 30 for 30aired their recent episode called “Book of Manning” about the Manning family last night. It was a great film.
I will never forget the experience of my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, pledging a fraternity, and being part of his senior season. Peyton has always been a class act. But this show really made me appreciate Archie Manning and the role a father has in his child’s life.
Here are a few highlights…
1. Archie Manning went through his life without a father. What he gave his three sons, he offered not from a deep place of it being bestowed on him, but offering a father/son relationship that he himself never received and longed for.
That had to take a lot of courage. He gave his sons what he needed and I am sure still wanted. The intentionality he had with his boys and willingness to stay engaged with his sons must have meant digging into some hard places emotionally.
2. Archie’s NFL career never produced what most would see as a success. He didn’t win a lot of football games. No Super Bowls. Not even a winning season with the Saints for 12 years. But he never saw it that way. He was a great quarterback, but not with the best team. But he never complained, and never made it about himself. He didn’t come home to the family after a loss sulking in defeat and pulling the family to console him and his ego. Never begged to be traded.
In fact, his wife and sons, Peyton and Eli, explained they wouldn’t even be able to tell when he came home if he had won or lost. He came home and was ready to be with his family.
That is powerful. A true servant. Someone who didn’t make it about himself or his ego. Or bringing the family around him to nurse and play up a hurt ego.
3. The phrase… father first… former NFL player second, was used repeatedly throughout Peyton and Eli’s story of their dad. He didn’t see his role in his son’s life as dominating them or casting a shadow. He didn’t even let their sons play tackle football till they were in high school. He didn’t put pressure on their decisions on where to attend college, or to make appearances during their games or stand out in the crowd during games. He often disguised himself. He was there to cheer on his sons and support them.
"I get invitations to go speak," Manning said. "They want to put a title on there -- 'How to Raise an All-American.' No, no, no, no, no. ... We tried to raise kids. Not NFL quarterbacks."
How many other fathers would end up living through their kids or give them expectations? Maybe even play up the spotlight for themselves to get a little more attention? When others would make a big deal about him, he would downplay it, and put the glory and spotlight back on his sons.
True humility in my opinion.
4. There is a story of Peyton sharing how we would take his father's old college cassette tapes and stay awake listening to them. He could tell you by name the offensive line and their hometowns as they announcer called them out, and could visualize his dad on the field as he closed his eyes on his bed.
It was a powerful story and no doubt shaped Peyton. The legacy of his father... wanting to be like him... taking the time to sit and listen and soak in his dad's life. Masculinity is bestowed and learned. And since we learn by doing, by experiencing, and soaking in those before us. Can you imagine living a life where your son or daughter would listen to your "tapes."
It was a great story. I hope if you have not watched it, you do. I think in part because it showed the heart of a good father and the result. The building into his sons would launch them to become great men and great quarterbacks standing on their own two feet.
Our American version of success is often seen as self-made. But I don’t know if that is true. It is built into us. And when you see the back-story… the behind the scenes of Peyton and Eli, what you find is the building blocks of them to become great men, great football players. A father loving his sons… that is powerful.