Monday, January 21, 2008

Archie Manning Showed He's A Dad Like Any Other

Archie Manning is the epitome of the phrase, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again -- and if that doesn't work, then make kids who can do it instead."

OK, so I placed an addendum in there. Yet it's true, even if it's an axiom that, this morning, only seems to apply to the elder Manning and no one else.

I think just about every father in this country could relate to Manning as the Fox Sports cameras showed him squirming and agonizing in his suite while he watched son Eli try to lead the New York Giants into the Super Bowl. What parent (moms, too, of course) hasn't reacted the same way as Archie Manning while their Timmy or Suzy plays their first clarinet solo, or is at bat in a Little League game, or utters a speech during the school play?

I'm not usually one for Fox's sometimes incessant use of "cut away" shots during games, often times designed to manufacture suspense or drama that we can certainly create for ourselves. But in the case of the cut aways to Manning -- the father -- while yesterday's NFC Championship game went on, all is forgiven, and even encouraged.

Patriarch Manning had a stilted career as an NFL quarterback, gamely fighting with some very bad New Orleans teams. He finished with Houston and Minnesota, and those squads weren't any better. From 1971 to 1983, Manning was pummeled and his teams overmatched. He didn't come close to the Super Bowl. His teams never even made the playoffs. Often they were mathematically eliminated around, say, Labor Day.

So imagine how gratified Archie Manning must feel now, seeing his two NFL-playing sons make the Big One in the last two seasons.

When Archie entered the NFL from Ole Miss, there weren't any grand illusions. He was a good college QB that would be going to a bad NFL team. The Saints were in only their fifth season of existence, and were still in the throes of bad management and bad luck. Manning's bosses did him a great disservice, never surrounding him with enough good players to be competitive in the NFL.

With son Peyton, there was more hope. The NFL had changed, and someone of Peyton's size and skill was a perfect fit for the offenses in vogue. And the Colts weren't the chopped liver that the 1970s and '80s Saints were. Sure enough, after some near misses, Peyton and the Colts reached the mountain top.

With Eli, there was considerably more doubt, but again -- not the hopelessness that went with his dad in New Orleans. There was the awkwardness after his selection by the Chargers -- a team he openly said he wouldn't play for. Then he was traded to the Giants, and many (like me) thought he was simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire, with New York's propensity to gobble kids up and spit them out.

With Eli pointing the way, the Giants are again in a Super Bowl -- their fourth

By the way, wouldn't it have been something if Eli's opponents in the Super Bowl were those same Chargers? That's a media wet dream.

But despite those uncertainties, Eli showed enough -- especially this season with all the road victories (perhaps lending more credence to the New York monolithic factor) -- to indicate that he could soon follow older brother Peyton to the game with the Roman numerals. And now he's done it, earlier than planned, I would say.

So back to dad.

Archie Manning was acting as any father would, watching his son perform. The stakes were high, and as the wise people say, you never know when you might get this chance again. So it was nice, actually, that Fox Sports gave us those reaction shots. I especially liked it when Archie would drop his head down to the table, as if he couldn't bear to watch. He probably couldn't.

The elder Manning had no opportunity in pro football to come anywhere near where his sons have already gone. And, being a dad, I'm sure he'd rather have it no other way.

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