The ESPN documentary "The Book of Manning" shows a new generation of football fans that Peyton and Eli Manning got their athleticism and acumen from good bloodlines as well as their strong work ethic.
The film, narrated by John Goodman, explores how tragedy shaped one of the most influential families in pro sports history and serves as a reminder of how good Archie Manning was at Ole Miss and during his pro career with the otherwise hapless New Orleans Saints, Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s and '80s.
"What intrigued me about telling the story was ... I 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," director Rory Karpf said. "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."
The film explores the personal and professional life of Archie Manning and how his father's suicide impacted his life and the way he and his wife, Olivia, raised their three sons, Cooper — whose football career was cut short by a spinal condition — Peyton and Eli.
With Peyton and Eli Manning so successful in the NFL, Archie Manning the QB has largely been forgotten, and the patriarch of the first family of football said he's always been fine with that.
"Oh, the years fly by, that's just natural," he said on a conference call in advance of the film's Tuesday night debut. "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.
"I never worry much about that. I always had kind of a philosophy, I really enjoyed playing. Gosh, I loved playing."
He said he enjoyed every step of the journey even though he never came close to the kind of success his sons have enjoyed in the pros, and he's taken great pride in watching his sons excel at the game he fell in love with.
Karpf said being able to tell Archie Manning's personal story as a father and son was just as satisfying as reminding everyone how good of an athlete he was.
"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," Karpf said.
At first, Archie Manning wasn't eager to do the film but his wife — and Karpf — talked him into it.
"I bothered Archie for months about doing this. He actually turned down the film twice," Karpf said. "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."
Archie Manning said he relented in part because the film is part of the "SEC Storied" series, and "we've had a great relationship with the conference," he said. "Mine's a long one, and both boys made decisions to play in this conference."
Archie Manning said he was pleased that the documentary didn't short-shrift his eldest son whose football dreams ended in college.
"I think one thing I like so much about the documentary is that Cooper's role in there is equal to Peyton and Eli's and that's the way it should be," Archie Manning said. "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."
Archie said he never pushed his sons into following his footsteps into the NFL.
"I think the first thing that my sons will tell you, that I never tried to be their coach," he said. "And 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."
Archie Manning said he first realized the headstrong Peyton had what it took to make it in the pros when Peyton was a junior at Tennessee. But he never really was sure about the quiet and reserved Eli, who ended up going to Ole Miss like his father.
"At one point, we didn't even know if Eli would be an athlete, didn't know what Eli wanted to do," Archie Manning said.
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