Review by Clancy
Being a Montana boy and a recent transplant to Tennessee, I figured it was a smart idea to learn a little bit about local culture. No better place to start than Tennessee Volunteer alum and future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning! I have been told that he is considered by many ‘round these parts as some form of deity. So I picked up a copy of the recently published The Mannings: The Fall and Rise of a Football Family by Lars Anderson, figuring I would learn a lot about Peyton and not be so shy during watercooler chats about the football legend. What I came away with was a bounty of knowledge about his father Archie Manning: his rise as a “Southern Hero” and his influence on his three sons as both men and football players.
The first half of the book focused strictly on Archie Manning. He was raised in Drew, Mississippi so the author took the opportunity to frame this part of the biography by describing Southern norms, customs and even allusions to the Civil Rights Era. The first chapters introduce the reader to Archie’s father Buddy Manning. He was a tough, stubborn man who craved routine and was a large influence on Archie’s development. Buddy knew that Archie was athletically gifted at a young age and made sure that he did not become egotistical about his talents. Throughout the arc of the early storyline we see Archie confronted with challenges, both in high school and his time at Ole Miss, and how Buddy’s influence leads Archie into the right direction. In all cases the advice is the same: work hard and be a nice guy.
The second half of the book described how Archie as a sporting dad allowed his kids to discover their own dreams and accepted when they followed in his footsteps. We learn that the oldest boy, Cooper Manning, was considered the best athlete of all the boys. The middle son, Peyton, loved reviewing film at a very young age (who would have guessed), was extremely competitive, and as a young quarterback took over games with the mind of a coach. Both Cooper and Peyton were very close in age and bond but the final son, Eli, was much younger and much more of an introvert. Throughout all his schooling, even up into college, Eli is portrayed as shy and reserved. Archie Manning had a “hands off” approach when it came to his sons and football. He only gave advice when asked and always made sure that coaches knew that he was not a parent coach nor had the desire for it. The boys were truly free to shape their own destiny. Peyton and Eli went on to be NFL quarterbacks and each became two time super bowl champions.
I thought it was a well written biography. Lars Anderson used narrative and emotion to drive the story forward in a way that felt very natural. I honestly couldn’t put it down (this is when a hyperbolic reviewer would start exclaiming that it was a “tour de force” and “one for the ages”). While there were descriptions of games and specific notable plays, the focus was more about the interplay of a football loving Southern family. This made for a very relatable storyline.
So the question is, did this Montana boy learn about Peyton Manning’s rise and why he is regarded so well? The answer is in the affirmative but I definitely learned much more than that. Archie, along with his wife and sons, portrayed how being nice along with hard work, preparedness and dedication are the tools necessary to be victorious in the face of challenges both on and off the field. I would recommend The Mannings to anyone who enjoys a good morality play but I would definitely recommend it to parents of high school and college athletes or any coach looking for foundational principles on how to morally manage a team.