September 26, 2013 9:43:48 AM
Tuesday night is not generally a big night for ESPN.
While the cable sports channel builds itself around college football on the weekends and Monday Night Football, the middle of the week is left to reruns and documentaries and low-profile sporting events.
This past Tuesday was an exception, especially for Mississippians. ESPN's 30-for-30 series of documentaries debuted "The Book of Manning," which has created quite a buzz in Mississippi.
As one Mississippi State fan put it, with mock sarcasm, "The Book of Manning" is the story of some people who went to Ole Miss, but managed to rise above it.
The more accurate description is that it tells the story of legendary Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning and his sons, two of whom went on to follow in their famous dad's footsteps, and another whose football career was cut short by medical issue. Peyton, the middle son, is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Before that, he helped the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title. Eli, the youngest son, is the quarterback of the New York Giants, where he has won two Super Bowls. Both have been MVPs of the league. Both are likely to wind up in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Those who haven't seen the documentary might be inclined to assume that the story is something for football junkies only. Yet, it is clear early on that football is merely the backdrop for a story that has a far more universal appeal.
While there is no question that the Mannings are considered football's royal family -- Archie, along with Elvis and Oprah -- are likely the only three Mississippians who are immediately recognizable by their first names alone -- ultimately "The Book of Manning" is a story of a father whose main ambition was to be a father.
In the documentary, Archie addresses a misconception that some who followed the progress of his football-playing sons might easily embrace.
He said he never set out to make his sons football players, although he acknowledged that he could have done that.
When his boys were little, Archie often took them to the New Orleans Saints training facility, not because he wanted to indoctrinate them at an early age to football, he said, but because he simply wanted to spend time with them. They tagged along, much like the children of a store owner might tag along. The Manning boys played sports, of course, which is not uncommon for a family full of boys. Sports was something that was always kept in proper perspective. That his sons would excel in sports turned out to be a happy coincidence.
It was never Archie's goal to raise good football players.
He said he just wanted to raise good sons.
That's a lesson that can apply to all dads. And all moms, too, for that matter.
It would have been very easy for Archie Manning, Ole Miss icon and long-suffering quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, to have made himself the focus of his life, with his wife and children cast as supporting actors.
To his credit, and to the benefit of his family, he chose the more humble, more meaningful path. His famous sons also exhibit that same good-natured humility that made Archie such an endearing figure.
For those reasons, Archie holds a special place in the hearts of Ole Miss fans. But even the most hard-bitten Bulldog fan finds it impossible not to love him, too.
It is rare that the reality of heroes measure up to the pedestal on which we place them.
Archie and his sons can be counted in that rare company.
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