In sports these days, as in pretty much everything else, we are all about immediate gratification, and Archie Manning knows it. He also knows a Broncos record of 2-3 going into tonight’s game at San Diego opens the door for skeptics to suggest his middle son, Peyton, is over the hill at 36.
A former NFL quarterback himself, Archie’s prescription for Broncos followers calls for a quality in short supply among sports fans these days: patience.
“I know it’s been a big transition for Peyton,” the elder Manning said on the Dave Logan Show. (You can listen to the full interview here.)
“And I’m not sure what’s the bigger transition — coming back from four neck surgeries or changing to a new team, new city, new system, new players, that type of thing. You know, (after) 14 years in one place.
“I know a lot of people are disappointed at a 2-3 record, but I’ve said from the get-go when people asked me, I said I think if this group of people can stay healthy, it’ll definitely be a better team in the second half of the season than the first half of the season.
“A lot of times, you say that about a new team or a new coaching staff. And I know the coaching staff was there last year, or some of them were, but I did look at this as kind of a start-over situation. I know the system changed from last year and a lot of the players.
“Somebody asked me (two weeks ago), ‘Is Peyton excited about going to New England and playing the Patriots?’ I said, ‘I think he could think of four or five other teams he’d rather be playing.’ The schedule is brutal, guys. I mean, it’s really tough. But it’s the NFL and I think it’s a matter right now of kind of hanging in, getting better, keep coming together as a team, offense and defense.
“But back to Peyton, I think Peyton’s happy. He’s not happy with losing three games, but I think he’s happy with the guys he’s playing with and everybody working to try to make progress.”
Archie Manning is one of the few people who can relate directly to what Peyton Manning is going through. Like his son, the elder Manning missed an entire season in the midst of his NFL career, sitting out the 1976 campaign with a shoulder injury. I asked him what he found to be the biggest challenge coming back after a year off.
“I think just kind of getting the rust off,” he said. “Probably somewhat similar to Peyton in that mine was, I had biceps tendinitis and had two operations on my throwing arm. His surgery wasn’t on his throwing arm, but still the neck surgeries did affect his throwing to the point where he basically just started all over again with his rehab. He went to Duke and teamed up with his old college coach and just started from scratch.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe was Manning’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee from 1994-97.
“It’s a rust situation,” Archie Manning said. “I don’t care how much you’ve played before, when you miss a whole year and you’re dealing with your arm, which is the reason you’re there as a quarterback, you’ve got to kind of prove to yourself that you can do this, you can make this throw, make that throw. So it’s been a process. He’s my son, but I’m really proud of Peyton, the way he’s dealt with everything.”
I asked if he was surprised that after an abortive free agent tour, Peyton ended up in Denver.
“I can’t say it surprised me,” he said. “That was the first visit. What was so tough for Peyton, the Indianapolis thing was hard. I think he’s a pretty loyal person and he felt like he needed to be loyal to Indianapolis, and he was going to stay. Well, it didn’t work out that way. So when he finally came to the realization he was going to be gone, it was kind of tough. There were a lot of ties there, 14 years.
“So he does that breakup one day and has got to start this tour the next day. I thought that was really hard on him. So I think the place that he made his first visit was where he knew he’d be comfortable for a visit, and that was with John Fox and John Elway and the Broncos. And then he did the rest of it.
“Now, he didn’t go on all the trips. He called and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ He’d been to Arizona, he’d been (to Denver), and he said, ‘They’re going to have to come to me. I just can’t make this tour.’
“And I said, ‘Well, where are you going?’
“He said, ‘I’m going home.’
“And I said, ‘Well, where’s home?’
“And he said, ‘Duke. Duke is now home.’ So that’s where he was comfortable, with his old coach and some support there.
“He was 36 years old. I did not stick my nose in it. Sure, we talked some, but the only thing I told him, and I think that’s what you tell a (son), kind of like back during recruiting: ‘Go with your heart. Go with your heart.’ And I think that’s what he did.
“And never look back. And I don’t think he ever will. I know it’s not what everybody wanted, but still there’s been some progress made here for everybody, and if everybody can stay healthy, it’s going to get better.”