Documentary subject Archie Manning, director Rory Karpf and ESPN Films executive producer John Dahl discuss the next film in the SEC Storied documentary series
ESPN conducted a media conference call today in advance of the premiere of The Book of Manning, part of ESPN Films and ESPNU “SEC Storied” series. The film will air Tuesday, September 24, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Transcript:
JOHN DAHL: When we started the SEC Storied Series two years ago, we launched it in 2011 and as we looked at potential topics from the rich history of the SEC, the Mannings were first on the list. And so this film has really been more than two years in the making and we are I am menially proud of it and the work that our director Rory Karpf has done on this film. It’s a very poignant look at Archie and his journey through life and his career, and I think just when you feel like you may know everything about Peyton and Eli Mannings and the Mannings in general, you don’t, you don’t at all.
It’s a really fresh look at their story and I think through Archie you come to understand not only his journey, but the entire narrative of the Manning family. So this will kick off the third season of our Storied Series, and I think people are going to really like what they see.
Q. For Archie, given the permanent nature of some of the material in the show, how do you feel it was handled and how do you feel the finished product came out? And secondly, what is your take on Eli’s early interception issues and what he might have to do to get past that?
ARCHIE MANNING: Well, Olivia and I viewed the documentary for the first time several weeks ago. I think Rory will tell you, I didn’t have much of a hand in it, hardly any, maybe identified a few people that he might want to talk to, and that was kind of it.
So I think maybe when it got close, said, we going to watch this thing and I really had not paid too much attention to it for a couple years. Kind of scared me, what’s this going to be like. But I have to say, Olivia and I were happy with the documentary.
We had a private screening over at Ole Miss a little over a week ago that was really well received by family and friends up there and a lot of my teammates that were up there, and that kind of made me feel good things, kind of ‑‑ as the documentary recognized those guys again.
So, I don’t know, you know, I’m not ‑‑ I think most of my friends will tell you this. I don’t have a real big ego. This wasn’t really my idea. As a matter of fact, Rory will probably tell you along the way, I even nixed it after we had started, just because I kind of had a plate full and I didn’t want to bother people with it. Olivia kind of insisted, this story, maybe my grandchildren would want to see it and need to see it. So when my wife tells me to do something, I usually do it, and we’re really pleased with it.
I’m not going to get into Eli’s interceptions, although I’m a pretty big ‑‑ you can go back and check my career, I have a lot of expertise talking about that subject. But it’s kind of part of quarterbacking. They will be trying real hard to balance up their offense a little bit, and everybody chip in and Eli will certainly try to eliminate the interceptions. It will all work out.
Q. What is your favorite anecdote about the Ole Miss ‑ Alabama game of 1969?
ARCHIE MANNING: Oh, it’s been so long ago. I don’t know what you’re really referring to. You know, that game, for years, I never saw a replay. People talked about it.
I guess probably one of my favorite things is, I go to Birmingham a good things bit and I’ve been there a lot, you know, since that game over 40 years ago. And several times, when I go to Birmingham, it seemed like the majority of people come up to me and say, I was there that night; I was there. I was ten years old; I was 20 years old; I was there.
So on several occasions, as I continued to go to Birmingham, I kind of told the group, I said, I don’t remember exactly what the capacity Of Legion Field was when we played that night. Probably around 60,000 or 70,000 people, but I know 300,000 or 400,000 people that told me they were there that night.
You know, it was kind of game that you see more ‑‑ a more common game you would see today. You just wouldn’t expect to see a game like that bean a Bear Bryant and a Johnny Vaught team in 1969.
Q. You mentioned the project scared you; in the overall sense, not just this documentary, but this entire sort of second part of your life, has it been difficult for you to kind of live out in the public the way you have because of the success of Peyton and Eli, and having so much attention brought to you throughout this part of your life?
ARCHIE MANNING: Well, I don’t ‑‑ I don’t go out really seeking it, and somebody might say by agreeing to do this. But I think the people involved will tell you I kind of did have to be talked into it.
I think one of the reasons I agreed is I was sold on it, was the Southeastern Conference, we’ve had a great relationship with the conference. Mine’s a long one, and both boys made decisions to play in this conference. You make so many friends, and so it was something that, you know, a project that the conference had undertaken, and it was ‑‑ I think I had to kind of look at it as an honor for them to ask me to do this.
So I didn’t do it to get recognition, and I’ll tell you kind of what I’m happy about. From this private screening that went on at Ole Miss and there were over 1,100 people there, I’ve gotten hundreds of notes and he mails and text messages; and I think there was a message there about fatherhood and about parenting, about family.
So if that message comes out to people, then maybe it’s a good things thing.
Q. Did you ever think that your two sons would be probably the two biggest pitch men for products in the NFL? And what did you think of the video they did, ‘Football on your Phone?’ And serious question, take me back to 2004, the thought process behind the fact that it seemed like you never wanted Eli to be drafted by San Diego, and how he wound up with the Giants.
ARCHIE MANNING: No, I never thought they would be big ‑‑ I never thought about them being big pitch men. I don’t think that’s a goal to have. I think if you’ll look at their history, the associations they have and the partnerships, corporate partners they have, it’s quality. And also, it speaks well ‑‑ I’ve always thought if you’re going to have a relationship like that, you hope it’s not just a quick one; that it’s something that’s meaningful, you’re really part of something within the company. You know the people, and it’s something that continues over time. Most of theirs have been that way, and I’m proud of them for that.
The DIRECTV, the rap video, was certainly an odd ‑‑ to me, I had a very small part, and maybe even for Peyton, you know, he’s 37 years old now, in his 16th year. But Eli I thought kind of jumped out there in that, was kind of a star.
I think, you know, this is kind of ‑‑ reiterates what I said. This is a 15‑year relationship our family has had with DIRECTTV. So they are a wonderful company and they have great people. They have been really successful. They are a big part of the NFL, so it’s a good things tie‑in.
I’m proud of the boys; the fact that, our family, they have continued to ask us to be part of that in 15 years. And this is kind of a new wave there, the Internet advertisement and so forth.
So it got a lot of comment, I’ll say that. I talked about getting e‑mails and texts; we got a lot of e‑mails and texts about “Football on Your Phone.”
Third part, that was a long, long time ago. Eli and his agent made a decision in regard to San Diego, and as I said, I think it worked out well for both organizations and for everybody. So that’s what happened.
Q. Obviously a lot of the cool old footage you shot yourself, but curious what it was like seeing some things, I don’t know how long it had been since you saw them, if ever, like the footage from the Ole Miss alumni game. Were some of those things that are in the film things that you had not seen in a while?
ARCHIE MANNING: Absolutely. I haven’t seen those ‑‑ and Rory will tell you, maybe I was ‑‑ I’ll appreciate Rory ‑‑ yeah, I just turned over a bunch of VHSes, and actually some of that, it didn’t transfer ‑‑ I guess, what, Rory, to a DVD that I had not seen.
Somebody just, years ago, when the boys played the first Manning Bowl, Fred Gaudelli at NBC, I gave him some of that footage and he put it on a DVD. I’ve never watched it. I’ve never watched it. So, yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of that.
I’m not a great photographer or camera person, but this is when, you know, everybody has always done home movies. I’ve had that, too, but this is when I got one of those big cameras when they were getting popular. The thing was huge. You know, where you stuck a big VHS in the doggone ‑‑ I looked like a TV guy. I just said, that’s ‑‑ you love your kids and you want to capture some of these things, never thinking I’d be capturing for something like this, just to save and for them to watch one day and our grandchildren to watch.
So yeah, it’s a long time ago and pretty funny stuff. But yeah, I was the cameraman, and it was a big, big camera.
RORY KARPF: This is Rory. I’ll jump in with Archie. You had mentioned to me, Archie, that watching the part on Cooper, you and Olivia kind of got emotionally affected during that part because you maybe heard him say some stuff you had not heard him say before; is that accurate?
ARCHIE MANNING: Yeah, Cooper is kind of our family comedian. He keeps everybody loose, and I think he does that with all his friends and certainly his brothers. Everybody will tell you, Coop is fun, life of the party.
And I will say this, I think one thing I like so much about the documentary, that Cooper’s role in there is equal to Peyton and Eli’s and that’s the way it should be. His story of his athletic career being cut short, and then what he went through with the laminectomy and so forth, I can’t tell you how uplifting it was for our family to see how he handled that.
He’s always had a great spirit, but the spirit he had to get through that and the way he dealt with it, his attitude, certainly helped all us get through a tough time.
Yeah, I think when you see it in the documentary, when he reflects on it, it gets too him a little bit and certainly that touched all of us. I thought that was a special part of the documentary.
Q. When they played against each other, both you and your wife were there, can you recall the first time that it sort of hit you that ‑‑ my sons are going to be big‑time players; they are going to end up becoming NFL players, or they are going to end up going ‑‑ at what point were you and your wife, in conversation where you two both realized, hey, they are about to do something special, and we’d better be prepared to handle things and handle situations and being out where people recognize us for being their parents and not just you being an athlete; when did that hit?
ARCHIE MANNING: I don’t know if we ever really talked about it. It just kind of evolved. People will tell you, my friends will tell you, I was always very reluctant, very slow to talk about their future, what it might be.
I can remember, Peyton’s a sophomore in high school, and my buddies are saying, well, he’s going to be a college ‑‑ he’s going to be a college star. I said, you don’t know that, you’re not a college scout, you’re not a coach; how do you know that? Be quiet.
So it really wasn’t until his junior year and he’s getting letters from a hundred colleges that I kind of said, well, maybe he is going to play college football. And then probably not until his junior year at Tennessee did I really realize that he has a chance to be a pro player. I didn’t talk about that; I didn’t look that far ahead. I always pushed him ‑‑ he’ll tell you this, to enjoy the college experience.
Then Eli, you know, at one point, we didn’t even know if Eli would be an athlete, didn’t know what Eli wanted to do. And he kind of followed that same path as Peyton, but had no idea when he was a sophomore, even a junior in high school, that he would be a college player and he started getting recruited.
Certainly, he red‑shirted his first year at Ole Miss, he backed up his second year. No idea that he’s going to be a professional player. So we didn’t talk about that a lot. I think the biggest ‑‑ I guess when they both got into pro ball and Eli became a starter, so we’ve got two sons starting in the NFL.
Maybe the first Manning Bowl in ’06, you kind of ‑‑ a big pinch of yourself right there, and I guess it really ‑‑ the only time I remember us sitting down and looking at each other and talking and just saying, what in the world is going on here, is when Peyton won his Super Bowl m MVP and the next year the Giants and Eli won one. That’s when it hit us like, what in the world; this wasn’t a plan, and what’s going on here. Just kind of really pinch yourself.
Q. What’s the best advice you gave to your sons about playing the position of quarterback? And for Rory, what intrigued you the most about making this documentary?
ARCHIE MANNING: I think the first thing that my sons will tell you, that I never tried to be their coach. And I didn’t ‑‑ I didn’t give them as much advice as some people might think, being a former player myself and a former quarterback. If they asked, I gave them my opinion.
But I think that they would tell you this, too. I tell the same thing to young quarterbacks. We have a lot of them that come to our football camp every summer. The best advice I try to give a young quarterback is, you need to know what you’re doing. You need to know what you’re doing, because if you know where to go with the football, you can get rid of it and throw it and you won’t get hit.
And that’s ‑‑ to me, that’s advice a quarterback needs to have, especially a passing quarterback or somebody that’s going to be in the pocket. Know what you’re doing so you can get rid of it and you won’t get hit. Because my experience tells me, you don’t need to get ‑‑ as a quarterback position, you don’t need to get hit a lot.
RORY KARPF: For me, what intrigued me about telling the story was kind of twofold. Football‑wise, felt like a lot of people weren’t aware of the career that Archie had and how dynamic of a player he was, especially in college.
You go back and you look at some of the old footage of Archie Manning in college, and to me, it’s captivating. He was kind of like Barry Sanders behind center, how athletic he was, and the footage is really breathtaking to watch.
So being able to tell his story as a football player, for me, in a long format like a documentary for ESPN, was really intriguing, because to my knowledge, it had not been done before. There had been some short features done on Archie but nothing really long form.
The second part was more off the field, Archie as both a father and son. You read so much, like how did this happen; how did he have two sons who went on to win Super Bowls back‑to‑back and be Super Bowl MVPs. As a father myself, that was really intriguing.
And doing some research, you just kind of ‑‑ looking into Archie’s relationship with his own father, the tragedy he had to endure, and how that impacted him as a father himself, I just found it really interesting and also I found his story incredibly inspiring, just as a parent, what I felt ‑‑ like working on the film, I felt like I was learning a lot as a dad myself on things to do with my other children.
You realize that Archie didn’t put pressure on his kids. I think as parents sometimes, whether we mean to or not, we do put pressure. He just gave his kids unconditional support and love and Archie mentioned after the premiere, people commented to him about the film and fatherhood and what they learned. I think, you know, that was something I hope people will learn about, about fatherhood and what they can learn from Archie, is more kind of what he did off the field.
So being able to tell that and tell that story for me was a real privilege and a real honor, and I’m really happy it turned out. I’m really happy that, you know, I bothered Archie for months about doing this. He actually turned down the film twice. I don’t know if he remembers the first time he turned it down. But I’m very annoying and persistent, and so luckily ‑‑ I think I was just so pathetic that he eventually relented and I’m glad he did. So thanks, Archie.
Q. I enjoyed the film and one of the things I thought was so great about it is around every corner, there was a lesson to be learned, whether it was when Peyton was discussing, he was in the theatrical play at school and he continued on with it because you taught him, you know, to not quit on things. And so my question for you and as well for Rory: What are some of the biggest take aways that you want the viewers to take from the film? You know, if there were one or two things that you can really pinpoint that you want viewers to really learn, and lessons about leadership and about being a champion in their own right, what do you really want for the viewers to take away?
ARCHIE MANNING: Well, maybe just a few things. I mentioned earlier some of the nice notes I got after the screening at Ole Miss, just in general about father food. But I think in fatherhood, some things ‑‑ and these were directly, came from my father.
The one thing, the one thing I want to make perfectly clear is the relationship with my father was really good things. I just think that the references that are made to, you know, you didn’t say I loved you a lot, didn’t hug you a lot; to me, that was a generational thing. I didn’t see that any different with any of my friends. That was just kind of the way things were back then.
I think it was when I lost my father, which I felt like was a young age, after my sophomore year in college, that I missed him, and I missed those things, and the world changes. I think we as fathers and grandfathers today, you do a lot of things a lot different.
So I think that lesson to Peyton, you’re not going to quit this, you’re not going to quit anything, that was my dad’s rule. We didn’t have but four sports, but there were other projects and things you do. I wanted to quit scouts one time. I joined up for scouts and ‑‑ no, no, when you sign up, you’re going to finish it out.
Peyton also talked about one time, he was a young gun, I don’t know, nine or ten years old. He had a little talk‑back to his basketball coach after a game and so we made a little trip over to the coach’s house that night about ten o’clock to ‑‑ a few are tears flowing, and he apologized for that.
I just think in parenting, you won’t ‑‑ I think you want to teach your children to make good things decisions. One thing that I think came across in the boys recruiting, if they are old enough and mature enough to make their own decisions, they have got to make their own decisions, that have their priorities in order in order to make good things decisions.
And the other thing that I hope came across, is we just can’t ‑‑ as parents put all this pressure on our kids. You know, I guess I had a background to coach them but that wasn’t what I chose to do. I wanted to be their parent instead of their coach when it comes to sports and not stick your nose too deep into it and get in the coach’s way. That’s just a couple of things.
RORY KARPF: I’ll just say something brief. Archie touched on it, to just kind of let your kids blaze their own trail. Someone makes a comment in the film that a lot of professional athletes are the center of family life and Archie didn’t do that. He didn’t make the center of family life his football career. The center of kind of family life is what the kids were doing, and they each got to form their own identity.
You know, in the film there’s a part where Peyton ultimately chooses to go University of Tennessee over Ole Miss, and as Archie mentioned, he made that his kids’ decision. He didn’t put his own wants or needs or things kind of ahead of that.
So I think as a parent, it kind of seems sometimes easy, but I don’t know if we necessarily always do it as giving your kids that unconditional support, and not necessarily putting your priorities or your wants and needs ahead of your own. That’s what I learned, anyway, through working on the film.
Q. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Peyton the last couple of years here in Denver and I don’t think a week goes by that he doesn’t bring you up in one of his answers, whether it be a life lesson or something else. He’s always mentioning you. Having watched film what Cooper went through and losing his athletic career for health reasons, what’s it been like for you and Olivia to see Peyton go through rehab a couple years ago with his neck and his arm and to come back as good things as ever?
ARCHIE MANNING: Well, to me, it’s been a real blessing and maybe somewhat of a miracle what Cooper went through. At the time, when Cooper went through, immediately, of course, we wanted to check on Peyton and Eli and have them checked to make sure they didn’t have that same stenosis, which they didn’t, because that concerns you, because they also chose to play football.
And then, knock‑on‑wood here, they both have been so doggone fortunate in regard to injuries in their career. So when Peyton had his first neck surgery and the second and the third and the fourth, obviously we are concerned. Football wasn’t primary on our mind, is what that ‑‑ let’s try to get Peyton healthy.
The fact that he got it fixed and all the doctors cleared him to play again, and then, that didn’t mean he was, because of what he had to do rehab‑wise, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get to come back and play. A lot of people didn’t think he would. We just didn’t know.
But the fact that he did, he’s been able to come back; you know, I don’t think Peyton ever took ‑‑ I think he’ll tell you this. He never took football for granted because of what happened to Cooper. But I think he always knew he was fortunate in regard to health. But he wasn’t ready for his career to be over, not like that. Not four surgeries and having to leave the place where he had been so long. He just didn’t want it to end right there.
So I think the good things Lord looked down on him there and allowed him to play some more football, so we are grateful for that.
Q. Rory mentioned a little while ago about the emphasis in the film on your career and how it sort of reminded everybody of how great your college career was, and I’ve always wondered how you have felt about how your career and your legacy has been perceived during the time that Peyton and Eli have had the bulk of their careers; do you think that people, other generations, get how great you were? Have they lost track of it? Have they misperceived a little bit?
ARCHIE MANNING: Oh, the years fly by, that’s just natural. You know, if it wasn’t for Peyton and Eli coming along, nobody would know who I was. Maybe a few people in Mississippi, a few old people.
But that’s just ‑‑ I never worry much about that. I always had kind of a philosophy, I really enjoyed playing. Gosh, I loved playing. You know, even pro ball, I was around 14 years, and I didn’t see the brightest side of it, but I’ve never forgotten those dreams I’ve had. Now, it was my dream growing up to play Ole Miss, that was my dream.
But to get to play pro ball, even through some struggles and injuries and changing coaches, and bad teams and so forth; when it was all said and done, I never ‑‑ people still come up to me and said, oh, you never got any blocking, you never had a chance. I don’t really look at it like that. It’s what I wanted to do when I was 14, 15 years old, but I did it for 14 years. So I enjoyed the journey.
Now, I will say this, we just weren’t very ‑‑ we weren’t a real good things organization, a good team here in New Orleans during those years; a lot of changes in the front office and changes, coaches have ‑‑ there’s a reason.
So I have been ‑‑ I really count my blessings that Peyton went to an organization, when he went there, Bill Polian took over and the coaches and players, they did something special. So it was a good things organization. Same thing; Eli gets to go play with one of the great organizations of all times. I’ve all been glad they played in good things organizations.
Q. You touched on it a little bit about not putting pressure on your kids to play, which leads me to this two‑part thing. First, what did you guys ‑‑ what did you and your wife learn from raising Peyton through what he went through to get to the NFL to raising Eli to the same path? And second, what advice would you have for parents today that has a kid and their probably filming him at games and they are probably deeply invested at an early age, and how they should go about raising their child, whether he ends up becoming an NFL player or not?
ARCHIE MANNING: I really don’t think that’s a goal that parents should have for their children, whatever sport it is, necessarily to be a professional. Now, I love the fact that sports are available to young people. I think in our society today, kids need projects. They need things to do. They need things that occupy their time. So I think sports is a good things one. There’s so many values there and it does take their time.
But I think as parents, we don’t need to be the ones that push that. They have to like it and enjoy it and want to do it. And parents, we are just there to support. It never was a goal of me and Olivia to get Peyton to the NFL, and so even though he got there, it wasn’t our goal to push Eli along to get to the NFL. That was kind of what they were motivated to play and get better and they had a great work ethic and had good things coaching. That’s why they got there.
So, you know, my advice is for parents, is to support your children, make sure they are having fun doing ‑‑ if it’s whatever their project, extracurricular activity is, and just be there with them, be there and support them and be there for them and give them encouragement and make it a life lesson thing that they are along the way learning to make good things decisions and do the right thing.