INDIANAPOLIS – He’s been there from the start. Literally.
On a journey that progressed through New Orleans’ Isidore Newman School and the University of Tennessee, and as it transitioned to the NFL and blossomed first with the Indianapolis Colts and then the Denver Broncos, and as it almost assuredly reaches its final destination Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, he’s been there.
Every step of the way.
Every time Peyton Manning laced ‘em up and delivered one of those patented wobbly passes, Archie was there.
You probably would have found him stationed on the top row of the bleachers at an Isidore Newman game. He had zero interest in being one of those overly-involved dads with a camcorder, intent on documenting everything, good and bad.
“My theory was to go stand somewhere a ways away,’’ Archie said. “I’d go stand on the top row and keep my mouth shut.’’
In Knoxville, Archie sat in the stands at Neyland Stadium. He always brought headphones and tuned into the local broadcast. It wasn’t necessarily to listen to the Vols’ play-by-play of Peyton’s game.
“I didn’t want to hear what they were saying about my son (in the stands),’’ Archie said with a laugh. “It can be tough.’’
In the NFL – with Peyton and youngest son Eli – he always found an out-of-the way spot at the stadium that offered a good view of the game but also afforded him semi-privacy and room to pace.
“I had the luckiest tunnel in the old Giants Stadium,’’ Archie said. “I was a pacer. I got nervous. I got superstitious. I’d go pace and walk and shoot into a tunnel to see the play. If we had a good play, I’d stay.’’
One of Eli’s games ended with a Giants’ victory – and a lot of good plays – so Archie returned to that same tunnel for the next home game. And the next.
“The usher at the tunnel and I got to be good buddies,’’ he said. “That tunnel got to be pretty good to me.’’
Always there, somewhere. Always watching. Always supportive, never overbearing.
Peyton, the Hall of Famer?
Listen to anyone not named Manning, and Peyton not only is a shoo-in to be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 in his first year of eligibility, he’s the headliner. The official announcement comes Saturday evening at the NFL’s Honor Show on CBS.
Taking it a step further, the noise insists this has been Peyton’s destiny since his NFL career took full flight with the Colts in the mid-2000s. It soared higher with each Super Bowl appearance (four), world championship (one each with the Colts and Broncos) and MVP (a record five, including four in Indy).
“You don’t think about that,’’ Archie insisted. “At some point people started saying that. It’s like what they’re saying about Patrick Mahomes, and he didn’t have a 3-13 start.
“When (the Colts) got going in the 2000s, when they got on a pretty good run, people really started speculating about those things. But I never paid attention to it.’’
Also, sustained success – and so much more – was considered a formality. Remember, Peyton is part of the First Family of Football and a member of quarterbacking royalty. The New Orleans Saints selected homeboy Archie with the 2nd overall pick in 1971 while Peyton (1998 with the Colts) and Eli (2004 by San Diego, who quickly traded him to the Giants) were taken 1st overall.
Archie was quick to dismiss that DNA-related line of thinking.
“During my career, we weren’t very good and didn’t win many games,’’ he said. “It was tough. There were a lot of tough Sundays. It doesn’t really relate to me.
“Peyton had good coaches. One of the reasons he was successful is he had good coaches all along the way. He had good coaches at Tennessee, the Colts.’’
He also developed an unquenchable thirst for football. Perhaps more important, Peyton understood what it took to maximize his physical skills. It’s hard to imagine anyone possessing a stronger work ethic or commitment to preparing for that next meeting or that next game.
Bill Polian used the 1st overall pick in the ’98 draft – his first as Colts’ GM – on a much-hyped prospect out of Tennessee. He knew Peyton Manning was special, but discovered what made him special during the team’s pre-draft meetings with him.
“Very out of the ordinary to say the least,’’ he said. “Buttoned up. Organized. Exceedingly curious about our offense and about how we were going to do things.
“It was an absolute harbinger of things to come.’’
The Colts prepared for their meeting with Peyton at the NFL Scouting Combine, but weren’t prepared for what was to come. Peyton carried a legal pad into the room and did most of the talking.
“We were going to interview Peyton and he ends up interviewing us,’’ said Bruce Arians, the team’s quarterbacks coach at the time. “That’s a true story. He had a legal pad with about 10 questions. I don’t think we got to ask any questions.
“That was Peyton.’’
Tony Dungy could relate. A few days after being named the Colts head coach in late January 2002, he met with his QB1. He figured it would be one of those routine get-to-know-you sessions.
“He’s got a legal pad with 200 things he wants to work on and, ‘Here’s what I didn’t do well last year. This is what I’m working on, and here’s where I think we can be better,’’’ Dungy said. “That first week told me everything.
“I knew we were going to be special.’’
Peyton’s meticulous drive to consider every possible scenario resurfaced as the Colts were preparing for Super Bowl XLI and their meeting with the Chicago Bears in South Florida. He approached Dungy the week prior to the game.
“He comes to me and says, ‘Hey, I read the 14-day forecast and it might rain. We need to practice wet balls,’’’ Dungy said. “I’m like, ‘Peyton, I live in Florida. We’ve had 40 Super Bowls. It’s never rained. I don’t think we need to practice with wet balls.’
“He’s like, ‘We do. Let’s just do it one day.’ We practiced with wet balls and don’t you know it rained the whole game. That’s him.’’
At its essence, that’s how Archie raised Peyton, Eli and Cooper.
Be prepared. Take nothing for granted. Respect the game and those around you.
“We always talked about, ‘Just take care of your business,’’’ Archie said. “I got that from my daddy, and for a while I wasn’t sure what that meant. What it really meant was behave yourself and do the right thing.
“It was like that when I was playing high school. Take care of your business meant be coachable, be a good teammate, be a good leader, have good sportsmanship. Peyton checked all those boxes and dealt with adversity, and dealt with the good times, too.’’
Growing up around football
Archie never took steps to ensure any of his sons would follow in his footsteps. His NFL career spanned 15 seasons, the first 11 with the woe-is-us Saints.
He witnessed too many instances of parents being too involved – yes, too overbearing – with their children’s early athletic experiences.
“You see them go a little overboard and it kinda scared me,’’ Archie said. “I just said, ‘We’re going to low-key this thing.’’’
As much as he kept his distance when it came to his sons’ athletic endeavors – he didn’t coach any of them – it was impossible for Archie’s background not to influence Peyton’s interest and direction.
When Archie was with the Saints, he’d often take Peyton and Cooper to a Saturday practice. That eventually led to them attending games at the Superdome.
“They loved to go out there on Saturday mornings,’’ Archie said. “They were pretty knowledgeable for a young age.’’
After a game, Archie normally was one of the last to dress and leave the locker room. If his sons didn’t have a football with them, they’d improvise by bundling up discarded tape off the floor. Destination: the Superdome playing field.
“I wouldn’t go to the car,’’ Archie said. “Olivia and I would walk to the arena because that’s where they were.’’
When Jim Mora was named Saints head coach in 1986, Archie was part of the broadcast crew for the team’s flagship radio station. A pre-teen Peyton often was around and apparently overstepped some locker room boundaries.
“A couple of times the equipment guy came in and told me after a game or on a Monday, ‘We’ve got to do something. Peyton is taking stuff out of the locker room,’’’ Mora said with a soft chuckle. “It wasn’t anything big. Guys would peel off stuff after a game, something like a wrist band, and Peyton might grab it.
“The equipment guy would say, ‘What am I going to do?’ I told him, ‘Kick his ass out of there.’
“But Peyton was a great kid. I’ve known him since he was a little kid.’’
Occasionally, Peyton would use the weight room at the Superdome.
“A few times he’d come over, and there’s only him and me in there,’’ said Mora, who would be Peyton’s head coach for his first four years with the Colts. “He wasn’t trying to impress me. He was just trying to get a workout in, and it was an incredible workout.’’
There were times when Peyton was in high school or home from a break at Tennessee, and he’d show up at a casual Saints’ workout during the offseason.
“We had a quarterback, Bobby Hebert, and some receiver were in town and Peyton would come over and watch,’’ Mora said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, why don’t you jump in there and throw a couple?’ He jumped right in there. He was as impressive as anyone – arm, how he looked, attitude.
“He fit right in.’’
He did it his way
As Archie considered his middle son’s likely inclusion in the NFL’s most exclusive fraternity, his mind didn’t flash back to comeback victories or touchdown passes or Super Bowl victories.
He didn’t dwell on the final destination. He appreciated the journey. The NFL phase began with more than a few bumps. The Peyton-led Colts were 3-13 in his rookie season. That was more losses than he had suffered at Isidore Newman and UT combined.
“When he had adversity, he overcame it,’’ Archie said. “When they started winning, he became a leader. I think he already was a leader, but he became a great leader.’’
“You know what makes me most proud?’’ he said. “I’m an old-timer. I’ll be 72 this year. But the guys that I played with and I run into, they all say good things about Peyton. I don’t think it’s just because he’s a quarterback. It’s the way he took care of his business. The veterans and some of those Hall of Famers appreciate him.
“I think Peyton will fit in with those guys. He’ll be a good addition.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.