When Archie Manning and his son Peyton sat down to dinner earlier
this summer at a New Orleans restaurant near their Garden
District home, the chef sent out a plate of complimentary
appetizers. "You have a fan in the kitchen," the waiter said--and
there was no question that he was talking to Archie. How long
will it be, though, before father and son have to look at each
other and ask, Which one of us is this for?
Archie's fame grew over a legendary career at Ole Miss and two
Pro Bowl seasons with the New Orleans Saints. But Peyton, now
just 19 and yet to quarterback a full college game, signs
autographs in his classes at Tennessee and has already had
enough of his dinners interrupted to have learned how to handle
the intrusions with grace. "My dad's always been good about
that," Peyton says, "and I've watched him."
These days all eyes are on Peyton, a sophomore quarterback for
the Volunteers. He has been watched intently since his junior
year at Isidore Newman (La.) School, when big-time college
coaches battled to sign him for their programs. Peyton knew that
any choice other than Ole Miss--where his mother, Olivia, had
been a homecoming queen, his brother Cooper was a sophomore and
his father was still a favorite son--would create an uproar. On
the night before he was to announce his decision, Peyton
informed his family he would go to Ole Miss to avoid any
problems. Archie, however, told his son to choose for himself,
not the family; Peyton picked Tennessee.
On decision day, Olivia worried about Cooper, who might be
walking around the campus when word of his brother's selection
got out. But Cooper, who had had to quit the Ole Miss football
team the year before because of a spinal cord injury, proudly
wore a Tennessee hat to classes that day, daring anyone to make
a crack about his brother.
August 4, 1995
No one did-to Cooper. But letters inundated the Manning house,
Archie's office and Peyton's school. Some were distinctly
lacking in Southern gentility, but others, even from die-hard
fans, congratulated Peyton on his decision and hinted that
Tennessee might become their second-favorite team.
Being the son of a famous quarterback brings advantages along
with the pressure. When Tennessee lost to Alabama in the seventh
game a year ago, Peyton received words of advice from someone
who had been in similar situations. "Peyton, that's just how
this game works," Archie said as he and Olivia walked their son
across the Tennessee campus toward his dorm, Neyland Stadium
fading behind them in the warm October dusk. "You've got to get
ready for the next game." Peyton did, and that next one-a 31-22
win at South Carolina in which he played most of the game--was
the first in which he'd felt comfortable since high school.
When Peyton was battling classmate Branndon Stewart for the
quarterback job, Archie told his son to keep quiet, concentrate
on practices and be humble. Peyton did all that and received
letters from fans complimenting his poise. "What Peyton has
learned from his dad, and will continue to learn," Olivia says,
"is not really how to play football but how to be a football
Archie certainly doesn't want to be Peyton's coach. When
Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe visited Peyton
last summer to get him caught up on the offense, he made sure
Archie would be home during the meeting. The three of them sat
at the Mannings' dining room table, and Archie promptly fell
asleep. "I guess I was just tired," Archie says with a sheepish
grin. "But maybe in some indirect way I was saying, 'You're his
coach, I'm his daddy. I don't want to know the ins and outs of
the Tennessee offense.'" To this day Archie says he still can't
name a single Tennessee play.
Peyton, on the other hand, has had to digest more than anyone
would have expected, partly by necessity. When senior
quarterback Jerry Colquitt's college career ended with a knee
injury 31/2 minutes into Tennessee's opening-game loss to UCLA
last season, Manning and Stewart were unexpectedly thrown into
the action, although Todd Helton, the second-string quarterback,
played most of the way. Then Helton, the eighth pick in the 1995
Major League Baseball draft, hurt his knee in the fourth game,
and all of a sudden, the two freshmen were vying for the job.
Manning started the rest of the games, but Stewart played in
every one. "I wanted to be fair to both of them," coach Phillip
Fulmer says, "but most of all fair to our football team, to give
our team the best chance to win."
The Vols went 8-4 for the season, including a 45-23 win in the
Gator Bowl. After that game Fulmer told Manning and Stewart that
the quarterback job would be open in spring practice. But the
day spring-semester classes started, Stewart announced he was
transferring to Texas A&M.
So Manning, who went 89 for 144 with 11 touchdowns and six
interceptions last season, is the starter. Boy, is he. The
second- and third-string quarterbacks on Tennessee's roster are
freshmen. But if you're going to hand a youngster the
quarterback job at a powerful football program like Tennessee's,
it would be hard to pick a better one than Manning.
"He's the first one to meetings, and he's the last one off the
field," Fulmer says. "He's got the physical tools to get the
ball where we want it thrown. He can handle the running game.
He's got the gift of leadership." But beneath the accolades and
expectations is a teenager who has been in Knoxville just one
year. Says Fulmer, "Everybody expects too much of Peyton."
So far he has delivered, and not just on the field. Manning
finished his first school year with a 3.57 grade point average
and has gone to great lengths to mingle with other students.
When he gets away from school, it's to visit his family or his
girlfriend, Ashley Thompson, a junior at the University of
Virginia. "I just want people to think I'm a good guy," Peyton
says. "All I want to be is a normal person who happens to play
When it comes to being a good person as well as a good
quarterback, the man he patterns himself after is his father.
"He's the guy I look up to," Peyton says. "My dad's my idol."
Olivia remembers Cooper and Peyton requesting football uniforms
every Christmas when they were little. "Cooper always wanted the
uniforms of the glamorous players," Olivia says. "Peyton always
wanted to be his dad."
Nothing has changed, except these days there are lots of people
who want Peyton to be like his dad.