Across a three-state region, I’ve heard more praise about Mississippi football icon and humanitarian Archie Manning and his family than about anything else connected with my home state in years.
“The Book of Manning,” documentary produced by the ESPN sports network, is the source of all this good news. It likely will be shown a couple hundred times between now and Christmas, so look for it.
The 90-minute production charts Archie’s growing up in the tiny Delta town of Drew, where his sterling football career was nurtured. It relates how his father, Buddy Manning, took his own life while Archie was a freshman at Ole Miss. Then it details Archie’s brilliant career as a Rebel, his desperate years with the then-struggling New Orleans Saints and later how his sons Peyton and Eli became mega stars in the National Football League(and how his eldest, Cooper, had to give up football due to a potential spinal cord injury if he kept playing).
Archie was reluctant when first approached about the documentary. That’s his humble nature. But his wife, Olivia, urged him on and what followed is one of the most eloquent sports films ever.
When in Georgia, I am an avid follower (and participant) of Phil Paramore’s sports talk show based in Dothan, Ala., and also of the nationwide “Paul Finebaum Show.” On both, hosts and callers were still talking glowingly about “The Book of Manning” two weeks after it aired.
I got to know Archie in the 1980s when I owned a small weekly newspaper in his hometown, and published an Ole Miss sports magazine in the same era. He was always but supportive and I’ll forever recall his kindnesses.
In 1970, my final year in the service based at Naval Air Station Albany (current site of Coors), I and RVAH-7 “Vigilante” pilot and Ole Miss grad Don Boyd were in Athens when Manning directed a fourth quarter rally to lead the Rebs, trailing 21-14 starting the period, past Vince Dooley’s stunned Dawgs, 31-21. Yes, we gave Bulldog fans much grief post-game as we drove back to Albany. A small amount of “Rebel Yell” firewater fueled our bravado as much as the Rebels’ victory.
Later that season in the Gator Bowl against Auburn, Archie played with a broken arm and yet almost brought the Rebels a victory in one of the most gallant performances ever by an SEC football player.
Several years ago when I worked for the Mississippi Legislature, Archie and Eli were honored for their deeds. Over two decades there, I saw dozens of artists, athletes and other celebs praised in the state Capitol. None generated the love and gratitude showered down upon the Mannings. (I can’t recall whether Peyton simply couldn’t make the trip, or whether he was not invited for playing at Tennessee after high school.)
Very few American sports heroes make good politicians, but I truly believe that Archie Manning could have been elected governor of Mississippi in a landslide over any comer, and that he would have been a great one because of his inner goodness and his sound judgment. He led the group that hired the current Ole Miss coach, Hugh Freeze, when he was almost totally unknown. That’s working out well so far, despite the recent grievous loss to Alabama.
Maybe it’s not too late to bring Archie back for one more brilliant, circling, dazzling run.
Mac Gordon lives near Blakely and is a former reporter for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.