Back in October, Scott Barkley at Fishers of Men blog had a particularly outstanding post about how one man took his ache for a strong father-son relationship and turned it into a great legacy. As we enter Super Bowl week, he’s given us permission to re-post this story of the Manning legacy. We hope it encourages you to make the little decisions that can make a great impact on the next generation. And if you haven’t seen The Book of Manning film by ESPN, we highly recommend it.
After his sophomore year at Ole Miss, Archie Manning had everyone’s attention. For starters, he’d just led the Rebels as quarterback in only his second year at school, a feat which didn’t happen a whole lot back then. In addition there was something in the air about the football team at the school – hope for a successful year.
All that would be challenged when he returned that summer to his hometown of Drew in the northwestern part of the state.
One day Archie came home and discovered the body of his father, Buddy. As it would for anyone, the moment and days to follow were defining in Archie’s life and as it would turn out, for so many more than he could possibly imagine. A good son, Archie felt his responsibility was to stay home and take up his father’s cotton business. This would be the same business that had fallen on hard times for Buddy Manning; the same business that demanded his time away from Archie’s athletic exploits at Drew High — the same business that Archie would surmise decades later in an ESPN Films special would play a part in his father’s decision to end his own life with a gun.
Jane Manning would have nothing of it and persuaded her only child to return to Oxford for his junior year. Helping Archie work through the return to Ole Miss at a time when school and football just didn’t seem as important was his girlfriend Olivia, who would later become his wife.
We never know what moments in time hang by a thread and how crucial they are to where things go. If Archie Manning stays home the likelihood is he grows up to be a decent cotton farmer who threw the prettiest spiral you ever seen at Drew High School. Maybe he ends up marrying Olivia, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t. Gone are those magical seasons at Ole Miss and the grainy films of Manning slithering through the backfield between would-be tacklers before connecting with a receiver downfield. Gone is the pro career and the all-Pro, Super-Bowl-winning sons. Gone would be the Manning legacy as we’ve come to know it.
What we can learn from the aforementioned film “The Book of Manning” is not just what roads come from success and hard work, but those that appear through grief and disappointment. Archie Manning wouldn’t know how every time he saw an empty seat in the high school bleachers beside his mother – because his dad had to tend to business – that it would drive him to be the exact opposite. It wouldn’t become obvious until he was suffering through those awful seasons in New Orleans while Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw were enjoying the benefits of being surrounded by Pro-Bowlers. Even in those times, Archie considered himself a father before he was a professional football player.
And while many assumed his boys would be football players themselves, Archie contends that was never his plan. Sure, the home videos show them running through the backyard with their tiny-mite helmets and shoulder pads nearly swallowing up their bodies. That wasn’t Archie steering them, though, it was boys wanting to be like dad.
Which brings us back to small decisions, and the reflections that follow.
It’s easy for fathers to not remember little eyes are watching. After all, it seems they’re usually watching something else – the TV, their brother trying out his new rollerblades, the dog chase a squirrel. We can get lulled into thinking what we’re doing is slipping by unnoticed; the effect we’re having isn’t too big.
One of the biggest challenges for me as a father is making sure I spend enough time, real time, with each of my kids. So many other things at home demand my attention, not to mention that part of me declaring I deserve some time to myself. Doing the math brings it back into focus, though. My oldest is 11. At 12 years old your child starts pulling away from you. Friends, school, and the like increase their pull. She’s still in your home, but she’s less your little girl. At 18 she’ll probably be out of the house and in college. Your influence is still felt, but at that moment she’s largely in the world making her own decisions.
Legacies aren’t established in an instant. They take time and are built brick by brick through the small decisions we make every day, the way we respond to life.
Scott Barkley is a deacon at First Baptist Church in Cartersville, Ga., where he maintains and writes for the men’s ministry website at Matthew419.net. He and his wife, Amy, have four children. You can find Fishers of Men on Facebook.