“I Just Want to Be A Good Guy”
“Turn your obstacles into opportunities” might sound like a self-help cliche, but there are few people who can say it with the authenticity and humility of Archie Manning.
The former NFL quarterback—now more famous for being the father of Super Bowl-winning pro quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning—was the featured speaker at the Georgia Southern Leadership Lecture Series event, held in March at Hanner Fieldhouse. In his remarks, he explored a topic he knows a great deal about: leadership in the face of adversity.
“Folks, the question is not, ‘Will you face adversity?’” he said. “The question is, ‘What will you do when you face adversity? Will you get bitter? Or will you get better?’”
Almost inexplicably, Manning has managed the latter.
Among football fans, he’s renowned for his exploits as a quarterback for Ole Miss. In 1969, he set an NCAA single-game record when he amassed 540 yards against the University of Alabama. It’s a record that stood for 43 years.
What fans may not know is that only a few months before he accomplished this feat, Manning arrived home to find his father had committed suicide. In the wake of such a tragedy, the young quarterback displayed an inner strength that eclipsed his feats on the field and came to characterize his life.
He continued this uncanny resilience in the professional football ranks. He was the second player chosen in the 1971 NFL draft, a two-time selection to the Pro Bowl and was named the NFC Most Valuable Player in 1978. Off the field, he garnered several humanitarian and sportsmanship awards and the U.S. Jaycees named him one of 10 Outstanding Young Americans.
More remarkable, however, is that he was able to keep this optimism and winning attitude while he led the then-dismal New Orleans Saints—unaffectionately called the “Ain’ts” by their fans at the time —to nine losing seasons in 11 years.
Most remarkable of all, however, is that despite all the tragedy and failures, Manning instilled a legacy of excellence into his sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli—all of them successful in their careers and just as generous with their time and money as their father.
In the face of such adversity, how did Manning create this exceptional life?
“After losing my dad, my mother was strong,” he said. “One of the things that was so impressive about her was her attitude. She was always up. That can be a contagious thing.”
It was his mother, too, who taught Manning about priorities. He said the first time she mentioned priorities, he asked, “What’s that?” She made him look it up in the dictionary. He said it means “what’s most important,” and it’s the true north for him and his family.
“I think it’s important for our young people today that we get them as early as they can to recognize what their priorities should be and line them up,” he said. “Sometimes we all need to reflect back on that. It’s not hard to get away from them, but I think there’s an order there, and it starts with your faith and your family and goes right down the line from there.”
And when he thinks about his sons, it’s their priorities that impress him most. His eldest son, Cooper, donated a gym to his daughter’s school. Eli set up a children’s cancer clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. Peyton founded a children’s hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“In all three cases, I told them, ‘This is your finest hour,’” he said.
After the lecture, students were invited to ask Manning questions on a range of topics. One student asked him what he would like his legacy to be: a football player, a community leader or a mixture of both.
His answer was a story about his father.
It was Manning’s freshman year at Ole Miss, and he was reporting to football camp before classes started. The drive from his hometown of Drew, Mississippi, to Oxford was only eight miles, but he cherished the time with his dad.
“My dad was driving me, and I told him, ‘I need to pick a major. What do you think I ought to study?’” Manning recounted.
“My dad said, ‘You’ll decide what you need to study and whatever you decide, you’ll work hard at it. I just want you to be a good guy.'”
“And that’s what I try to do.” – Doy Cave
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