Think life was always easy for Archie Manning and his family through their college and professional careers? Think again, as ESPN's The Book of Manning outlines how they overcame life's toughest tests to become one of the legendary families in sports.
The documentary began by outlining the early life of Archie Manning, growing up on cotton farms and indulging a two-pronged love for baseball and football. That path led him to Ole Miss, where he beat the odds to start at quarterback as a sophomore in 1969.
Archie Manning's dual-threat quarterback ability was dissected. Unlike Peyton and Eli today, Archie was actually known for his running. He led his Rebels in passing and rushing later on in his college career.
As the big man on campus entering his junior year, and with the homecoming queen on his arm, Archie was on top of the world and bringing Ole Miss football back to the top.
Then, tragedy struck. Coming home from a wedding over the summer, Archie found his father dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Unsurprisingly, the death of Archie's father was a big turning point in his life. He contemplated giving up football entirely to help his family, but he made the tough decision to return back to Oxford, as ESPN's 30 for 30 showed:
Archie's Mom drove him back to school just days after his father's suicide. She insisted he go back. #BookofManning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
Archie's legend grew to epic proportions, becoming a beacon of light for the state of Mississippi in a time where segregation and poor education stifled the state. He became larger than life and an icon for the region—much like Peyton eventually became in Tennessee.
Archie entered his senior season as the obvious Heisman Trophy favorite, with his Rebels having championship aspirations. And again, just as things looked better than ever for the quarterback and folk hero, he suffered another setback.
He broke his left arm against Houston, which inevitably derailed his season. But he battled his way back to play late in his Ole Miss career as his sights were set toward the NFL.
As the second overall pick in the 1971 draft, Archie never garnered a winning season in 11 years with the New Orleans Saints. Their struggles were more a byproduct of his team's instability and lack of talent than his own play (he had seven head coaches in 11 seasons).
Despite his struggles on the professional gridiron, the film depicts a caring father who never brought his work home. As Archie himself states in the documentary, losing his father at such a young age impacted the way he looked at his young sons:
"He did not make his celebrity status as a pro athlete the main focus of family life. He put it on his kids.” - Jimmy Hyams #BookofManning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
As the film transitions to early life for Cooper, Peyton and Eli, we unsurprisingly see sports-crazed kids who yearned to follow in their father's footsteps.
But Archie, as Cooper and Eli outlined, set limitations on his sons playing football—they weren't allowed to play organized, contact football until the seventh grade.
When they were finally unleashed, Cooper (the receiver) and Peyton (the quarterback) created a formidable duo in high school. As Cooper headed to his father's alma mater, the unavoidable notion among Rebels fans was that Peyton would soon follow.
But as Cooper stated, "something just wasn't right" physically, inspiring him to see a doctor. He was soon diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which in non-medical talk means he played his entire career one hit away from being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
His playing days quickly ended with the news, and after a serious surgery, he had to learn how to walk again.
Archie and Olivia said they never saw Cooper get emotional like he does in the film. #BookofManning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
Peyton had little trouble emerging as a star without his older brother catching passes, as he became a larger-than-life recruit. But instead of following Cooper and Archie, he chose to go to Rocky Top and join the Tennessee Volunteers.
As expected, a backlash came from the Ole Miss fanbase as Rebels diehards called treason and directed much of the blame on Archie.
When Peyton announced he was going to Tennessee, Archie didn't return to Ole Miss for a few years. #BookofManning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
It probably didn't help that Peyton played one of his best games as a college quarterback against Ole Miss in a 41-3 drubbing.
The film goes on to dissect Peyton's legendary success at UT, where he set a slew of all-time records and created a folk-hero status larger than his own father's in Oxford.
But even for the golden boy who saw nothing but success through college, Peyton had his own struggles. The documentary outlines his Heisman Trophy snubbing to Michigan's Charles Woodson.
As Peyton's success propelled him to the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, Eli was just leaving high school and entered Ole Miss as the supposed savior that both of his brothers couldn't be:
“Yeah, I don’t know if my dad would’ve been invited back to the State of Mississippi if I had gone ah, somewhere else.” – Eli Manning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
However, he didn't get off to a favorable start—he was arrested for public intoxication as a freshman, something that he admitted set off an alarm in his head that he had to get things together.
And get things together he did. He set 47 school records, more than half of which were his father's. He led the Rebels to their first 10-win season in more than 30 years. In doing so, he created his own legend at Ole Miss and became a household name:
"Well, that’s what I wanted to be with my children. I, I hope they think I’m a good guy." - Archie Manning #BookofManning— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) September 25, 2013
After all of it, Archie can look back and see the men each of his three sons became and know that he succeeded as a father, making a positive impact on the lives of Cooper, Peyton and Eli:
The Mannings may very well be the first family of college football and perhaps sports in general, but as the documentary showcased front and center, it wasn't always easy for Archie and crew.
The Book of Manning outlined the many struggles each member of the Manning family had to go through at times in their respective lives, showing that even the most famous and legendary sports icons can get a reality check.
Through the untimely death of Archie's father, his NFL struggles, Cooper's unfortunate injury and more, the inner strength of the Manning family was tested many a time. And as Mannings typically do, they rose above it and became even better.