It was the summer of 1969 and Archie Manning was in the middle of a college football career that would eventually land him in the College Football Hall of Fame. He spent three seasons quarterbacking the Ole Miss football team before getting selected with the second overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. All of Manning’s football success may not have happened if not for his mother, who convinced him to keep playing after Manning’s father took his own life during the summer before Archie’s All-American season.
Archie Manning’s football career
Archie Manning began his college career at the University of Mississippi in 1968. In his first season, he threw for 1,510 yards and eight touchdowns but also was intercepted 17 times. He also rushed for 208 yards and five scores. In 1969, Manning got great use out of his legs when he ran for 14 touchdowns and gained 502 yards on the ground. He also threw nine touchdown passes and added 1,762 yards through the air.
During that 1969 season, Manning, the father of Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, was named the SEC Player of the Year and was named First-Team All-American. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. The following season, Manning was third in the Heisman voting despite playing in just eight regular-season games. He threw 14 touchdowns and ran for six more. Manning was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Manning was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft. He played the first 11 seasons with the Saints, where he made the Pro Bowl in 1978 and 1979, Manning was not nearly enough to help the woeful Saints, who never had a winning record with him at quarterback. In his NFL career, he compiled a 35-101-3 record.
The relationship between Manning and his father
In “The Mannings: The Fall and Rise of a Football Family,” a book written by Lars Anderson, it was written that Archie Manning and his father, Buddy, were close, but Buddy’s work prevented him from attending many of Archie’s athletic events. His mother, Sis, had attended every game since he was a child. Buddy was 59 years old but had just suffered a stroke five years earlier and he felt like an old 59.
But the time away from home had made Archie more appreciative of his father. He valued how Buddy played with him when he was a boy, that he taught him the fundamentals of football, basketball and baseball. Looking back, he savored how Buddy would sit with him and listen to those Ole Miss games during his childhood. Buddy was the reason Archie loved sports, and now, driving from Oxford to Drew on this summer afternoon, the two enjoyed a nice father-son moment as they talked of old games and old times. Buddy appeared to be happy.
After Archie left for college, Buddy’s business began to fall apart and he found it difficult to cover the family’s expenses. He also wasn’t feeling so good physically after suffering his stroke. The internal fire that once flamed his passion for life—he loved to read poetry and was something of a biblical scholar—had been reduced to a few fading embers.
The suicide of Archie Manning’s father
After the Manning family attended a wedding without Buddy, who wanted to stay home, Archie left the gathering to head home and enjoy a steak with his father. He entered the house and it was eerily quiet. He noticed his father lying on the bed. First, he saw the shotgun on the floor. Then the stick that was used to leverage and activate the trigger. The images registered like a series of still frames, ones that would be burned into Archie’s mind for the rest of his life. He lifted his eyes to the bed and—oh dear God, no—there was a big blood spot on his chest. Buddy’s face was up, eyes closed, mouth open. He was perfectly still. Blood was spreading out beneath his body.
The death of Buddy Manning sent shockwaves through the family. Archie was hit hard. He believed now was the time for him to be the man of the family. Archie made a decision: He was going to quit school, return home, and get a job coaching. He would become the man of the house and provide for his mother and sister. This was the way things were done in Drew when fathers passed away. Archie shared his decision with his mother. He told her that his football career was over and that he was moving back home. Sis reacted sharply: never would she allow that. Never.
Archie’s decision was emphatically overruled by Sis. She wouldn’t hear any more talk of her son dropping out of school. He would return to Ole Miss and fulfill his own destiny. The decision was firm and final.