Written for LSWA
NATCHITOCHES – Maybe it was what Archie Manning didn’t do that led his middle son to a dais in the middle of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Friday evening.
Peyton Manning stood front and center – as he often did throughout his decorated college and professional football careers – humbly and graciously discussing his impending induction into the Hall where he joins his father as one of three father-son combinations in the shrine to the Pelican State’s greatest athletes.
“My dad would tell you he’s as surprised as anyone to have had sons play professional football,” Peyton said. “It was not planned. It’s never something he thought would happen. Maybe that’s why it occurred. He wasn’t pushing or pressuring us to play sports. He encouraged us to play because of the lessons you learn playing sports – taking coaching, overcoming adversity, working with all kinds of teammates and personalities. Part of why me, Eli and Cooper had such a passion for sports was he didn’t push us to play.”
By allowing his sons to forge their own athletic paths, Archie’s trio of boys made their own names.
The first to follow his father’s footsteps from New Orleans to Natchitoches was Peyton, who starred at Newman High School in New Orleans before attending the University of Tennessee. He left Tennessee after a standout four-year career to begin a xx-year NFL career that included Super Bowl championship with Indianapolis and Denver.
No matter where he played, Peyton clung to his Louisiana roots, something that was deepened as he made his maiden visit to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum on Friday.
He toured the facility for approximately 30 minutes before meeting with statewide media to discuss his election, approximately 25 hours ahead of Saturday’s induction ceremony where he will join the other 10 members of the Class of 2019.
“I was always proud to be from Louisiana, to be a New Orleans kid,” Peyton said. “I always took that with me whether it was when I went to school in Tennessee or in Indianapolis or in Denver. I always had a great bond with the Louisiana players I competed against in college and pro ball. I had two former (NFL) teammates who went in last year, and I’m very proud of Brandon (Stokley) and Reggie (Wayne). I’m proud of Ed Reed being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. I keep repeating the word, but I’m honored and very proud to be here.”
Peyton’s place among the pantheon of Louisiana greats was well earned.
Entering the 2018 season, Peyton held the all-time NFL records for passing yards (71,940), passing touchdowns (539) and fourth-quarter comebacks (43).
Growing up the son of a wildly popular NFL quarterback may have made it seemed Peyton’s athletic destiny was predetermined, he said he never saw it that way – again owing to Archie’s rules for his three sons.
“My dad’s rule was we had to ask for his help,” Peyton said. “Whether it was hitting grounders or throwing passes or shooting hoops, we had to ask him, ‘Will you come with us?’ We were coming to him. That’s a healthy approach. You have to be careful pushing, pushing, pushing and the kid says this isn’t fun anymore. I’m very grateful for my family’s support and look forward to them being here (Saturday) night.”
With his family by his side, Peyton will enter a Hall that welcomed his father 31 years ago. Peyton was there that night, watching his father enter a group of luminaries he will join Saturday night. The Mannings will join Bert and Dub Jones (football) and Glen “Slats” and Billy Hardin (track and field) as father-son duo in the state’s Hall of Fame.
“It’s a very special recognition to go into the same Hall of Fame that inducted my father in 1988,” Peyton said. “I was here that night. What an impressive display. Terry Bradshaw went in that night, and I believe Elvin Hayes as well. To be one of three father-son duos, I can’t tell you what a thrill that is.”
Family has been a central theme of the Manning football dynasty, and it was family that helped launch Peyton’s career at Newman High School.
As children, Peyton and the eldest Manning child, Cooper, would play “one-on-one, 100-yard football” down the turf at the Louisiana Superdome while Archie readied for that day’s New Orleans Saints game.
About a decade later, the two oldest Manning boys teamed up at Newman and all the backyard routes and hand signals the two developed in their formative years were unleashed upon Louisiana high schools.
“We had these hand signals we made up, but we never got to use them until that one season of high school football,” Peyton said. “I can’t remember the actual statistics, but I think I had 120 completions and 90 of them went to my brother. Our other receivers weren’t happy about that, but I was smart enough to figure out that good things happen when I throw my brother the ball. He was our best player.”
The Mannings connected 76 times that season for 1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns, reaching the state semifinals and placing Cooper on the All-State team.
Football players aren’t credited with saves or assists, but if they could, Cooper Manning had one for his younger brother.
Peyton’s 13-year NFL career came to a crossroads after he missed the 2011 season with a neck injury. Again it was Cooper who came to the rescue.
“I’ve never been a huge what-if guy,” Peyton said. “Cooper went to Ole Miss and was on scholarship and would have had a great college career, but he had to stop playing. That really woke me up. I was a junior at the time, and he wrote me a letter, saying he was going to live his dream of playing football through me.
“It made me realize it could end at any time. I didn’t take it for granted. When I had my neck problems in 2011, I had a really good attitude because of how my brother approached his injury. He had such a good attitude. He was disappointed but never down about it. I learned a lot from him about approaching football every day.”