Archie Manning Returns Home
Archie Manning, legendary Ole Miss quarterback from Drew, MS (population 1731), returned to his home state yesterday as featured speaker in Practice Like Pros' presentation to the Mississippi Association of Coaches summer clinic at the Jackson Hilton Hotel.
The program began with video highlights of Archie's college career, including classic battles with Alabama and a Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas. When the video ended, all 250 coaches in the Grand Ballroom rose in a standing ovation.
Archie voiced strong opinions on hot-button issues. He said, "I do a lot of speaking to corporate groups and I get the question all the time, especially from women, about youth football."
Referring to sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli, Archie recalled, "When they were in grade school, we had a few youth coaches come around and ask if they'd like to play tackle football. I never could see the point of it, putting all that gear on a third- or fourth-grader. Our boys started in middle school, 7th grade at Isidore Newman School, and the schedule was only five or six games, just enough to give them a taste of it, let them wear pads for the first time, see if they were interested for high school. We didn't have flag football back then. God, what a great game flag football is for young boys. I wish I'd played flag football. I might not be gimping around like I am now."
Regarding head injuries, Archie said, "You know, in my day, we didn't have the word 'concussion.' We said 'dinged.' You got dinged. I remember one day I got sacked and had to come out of the game. I was sitting on the bench, the trainer was trying to break one of those old ammonia capsules under my nose. And our middle linebacker, Joe Federspiel, came over to me. He was a tough guy. I first met him in the SEC. He played at Kentucky -- tough. He says to me, 'Red?' I had red hair back in those days. Federspiel says to me, 'Red, are you gonna go back in the game?' I said, 'Well, uh, I'm not sure, Joe. I'm trying to clear my head here.' Federspiel says, 'Well, you better get your ass back in there. Your backup is warming up and he's already thrown three interceptions.' So I went back into the game."
Humor aside, Archie bristled at a PLP video clip of illegal helmet-to-helmet blows in college and NFL games. He told the audience, "I hate seeing a cheap shot that could end a player's career. The NFL should make the fines bigger and bigger. Fine the hell out of 'em. Or go with the college targeting rule -- throw players out of the game for illegal hits. High school boys see that kind of thing on television and now there's more of it in high school."
PLP founder Terry O'Neil, co-hosting with Archie, surprised the audience by citing a decline in Southern high school football participation. From the 2015 to 2016 football seasons, South Carolina lost 500 players, Georgia lost 600, Louisiana lost 700 and Alabama lost an astounding 2200.
"It's not just the Northeast and Midwest where we're seeing this problem," Archie told Mississippi coaches. "It's here in the South. It's now and it's real."
The solution? Manning and O'Neil agreed that high school football needs a better, more coherent, more credible message, starting with a commitment to limit contact in practice, i.e., to "practice like pros." In reply, Johnny Mims, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Coaches, instantly pledged to work with PLP on a contact-reduction proposal.
As the session ended, a scrum of coaches formed around Archie, seeking photos, sharing Mississippi memories, wanting to shake the hand of royalty. He is the patriarch of America's leading football family. And while Peyton may be retired and Eli will turn 38 this season, the dynasty has legs. Archie's grandson, Cooper's son, is the quarterback of Isidore Newman's 8th grade team -- so skilled, so genetically endowed, so well trained by his All-Pro uncles that, at age 13, standing 5-feet-5, weighing 120 pounds, he has already been offered scholarships by four big-time college programs. Young man's name is Arch.