Archie Manning speaks at Southern

Layne Saliba

If you know anything about football, you know the Manning brothers. Peyton and Eli have been in the National Football League for quite some time and the nation has grown to know them very well. However, if you are a true football fan, you know who helped get them there – their father, Archie Manning.

Many fans do not know that athleticism runs in the family. Nevertheless, the small town of Drew, Miss. knew it had something special as soon as it saw Archie Manning play football.

After high school, Manning made the short move to Oxford, Miss. and became somewhat of an icon for the Ole Miss Rebels.

In one of history’s first televised football games, The University of Alabama took on the Ole Miss Rebels with Manning under center. Manning completed 33-of-52 passes for 436 yards and two touchdowns. He ran 15 times for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Yet the Rebels still came out on the losing side, 33-32.

However, the 540-yard performance remained tied, 43 years later, for most yards by a single player in a Southeastern Conference game – that is until Johnny Manziel came on the scene.

After his college career, Manning was drafted second overall in the NFL draft where he spent 13 seasons, 10 of which were with the New Orleans Saints.

However, it was not an easy road for Manning and he had to work hard to get where he is. He never had a winning season. His career record was 35-101-3, so he knows about tough times and struggling to get through certain situations.

Yet, Manning was named an all-American in college while having his number retired as well. He also went on to win the NFL’s National Football Conference player of the year award, lead the league in pass attempts and completions and go to the Pro Bowl in back-to-back years, all while raising three boys with his wife Olivia.

Over the years, Manning has become the celebrity of Mississippi; even rivals at Mississippi State respect him. He has also become the celebrity in New Orleans. However, for just one night he was Statesboro’s celebrity.

Manning visited Georgia Southern University on Tuesday and addressed a number of topics. He shared many stories throughout the night about how he was able to become the man he is today. He talked about two of his sons, Peyton and Eli, his wife, former coaches and former teammates that have inspired and helped him throughout his career.

The main point he stressed throughout his talk, though, was leadership. He explained how he was able to become a leader, how he failed at being a leader and how students can become leaders today.

“I think leadership is an issue that is so important in our country and so important to all of us in every facet of our life and our society today,” Manning said.

Manning quoted a number of people ranging from Martin Luther King to Yogi Berra and each word was an attribution to his passion for developing leaders. He said the first step is to think like a leader, stressing that students need to see obstacles as opportunities – not roadblocks.

He kept his talk light-hearted with a sense of humor that kept the audience laughing throughout. He spoke about his love for college towns and college students. He also went on to speak about why students are important to the world today.

“I love the college life and I’ve always said I think every young person deserves a good college experience,” Manning said. “And I think it’s really appropriate that this lecture is about leadership because that’s what these students are about. They’re our next leaders.”

He also talked about his other son, Cooper, whose dreams were halted due to injury. Right before college, Cooper was told he would never play football again because he had developed spinal stenosis. The news ended his football career and ended his hopes of following in his father’s footsteps.

However, the family took a unique perspective when they received the news. The doctors may have said Cooper would not play football again, but they said he would be able to lead a normal life. And that’s all they needed to hear. The family was overjoyed, so Manning shared about some of the lessons he learned through his son’s experience.

“Folks, I feel like I know a little something about adversity. I know what it’s like to get bad news, I know what it’s like to lose a loved one, I know what it’s like to lose a ton of football games and I know what it’s like to lose most of your city to a horrible natural disaster,” Manning said. “But I have also survived that adversity and I know that at the end of every storm, there’s something shining.”

Manning finished his talk with a couple of questions, challenging the audience to think about their own lives. He shared about the many struggles he has faced in his career – in football and life in general. However, he made sure to note that none of it has stopped him from becoming a man who has received numerous accolades from around the nation.

“The question is not when will you face adversity. The question is what will you do when you face adversity. You can get bitter, or you can get better. It can overcome you, or you can overcome it,” Manning said.

It is plain to see that Archie Manning has taken his own advice and has certainly overcome everything that has come his way. Even knee surgery did not stop him from walking up the stairs to speak to the students and community in Hanner Field House. And when the message concluded, Manning received a standing ovation that echoed throughout the building.