In the world of football, the name Manning is legendary. Peyton and Eli Manning are renowned for their four combined Super Bowl championships, individual accolades and performances in big games. But their father, Archie’s 15-year NFL career has been filled with hardships, setbacks and scenarios with the New Orleans Saints, Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way for the Mississippi native Drew, selected with the second overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Saints.
Archie Manning had a distinguished career at the University of Mississippi, where he was a member of the All-American first team and fourth in the Heisman Trophy race in 1969. In a game that season against Alabama, the First broadcast on prime-time television, Manning threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards. Mississippi lost 33-32, but the top performance put Manning on the map. Known for his tenacity, he played the 1971 Gator Bowl with a broken left arm.
Archie Manning takes victory in his first NFL start
Manning’s rookie year with the Saints in 1971 began auspiciously. Although he said before the season that he “didn’t think a little internship” was out of place, Archie started in the first game, running for the winning score in the final game in a victory. 24-20 on the Eternal Power of NFC Los Angeles Rams. (Peyton started his first game as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998; Eli didn’t start until Week 11 of his rookie season with the New York Giants in 2004.)
The surprise victory fueled optimism for the Saints, who recorded 14 wins, 40 losses and two draws in their first four seasons in the NFL. “Too often writers use the word ‘big’ a bit carelessly,” wrote Bob Roesler of Times-Picayune from New Orleans in 1971. “But when it’s tied to Manning’s name, it becomes, well, it’s not strong enough.”
But there was only supposed to be one other highlight during Archie Manning’s rookie season. After two losses that ended a tie against the Houston Oilers, Manning threw a touchdown and ran for two more as New Orleans defeated eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas for the first time, 24- 14.
“I’m sure the win meant a lot more to players who’ve been around longer than me,” said Manning, known for his modesty.
The victory would be the final positive note in what was otherwise a dismal and painful rookie season, which foreshadowed the remainder of Manning’s career in the Saints.
Punishment for the humble saints of New Orleans
After the Dallas game, a Saints front office worker told an Alabama newspaper that to be great, Manning needs to stay healthy and in his pocket. By this point in the season, he had been sacked 26 times and hit countless more times. During his injury-riddled rookie season, he was sacked 40 times, a league-high, and finished with just three wins as a starter.
Constant punishments were the main themes of Manning’s career, and while teammates and opponents praised his tenacity, the pounding took its toll. Manning was sacked 43 times in his second season, again a league record, and he topped the league in that questionable category in 1975, with 49.
Manning was sacked 340 times during his Saints career – Brett Favre holds the NFL record with 525 – and missed the entire 1976 season after undergoing right shoulder surgery. Injuries weren’t the only major negative in Manning’s career. He didn’t succeed as a starter – New Orleans have never had a winning record in their 11 seasons with the team. The Saints’ best result with Manning was an 8-8 record in 1979.
Manning, who ended his NFL career in 1984 with the Vikings, recorded 35 wins, 101 losses and three draws as a starter. His 0.263 winning percentage remains the worst in league history for quarterbacks with at least 100 starts.
Surrounded by superior talent compared to their father, Peyton, a member of the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, ended his 17-year career with a 186-79 record with the Colts and Denver Broncos; Eli, who played all 16 seasons in the NFL with the Giants, finished with a 117-117 record. Peyton (two) and Eli (seven), who also played for Mississippi, had nine losing seasons out of a total of 33 seasons in the league.
Unlike his sons, who have made 39 playoff games combined, Archie Manning has never played in the playoffs. He was one of the few players to last a decade or more in the NFL without making a playoff appearance.
“I guess I could be at Drew raising pigs,” Manning, reflecting on his career, told a Mississippi newspaper in 1984. “Really, a lot of good things happened. It was a good trip and I have it. enjoyed it.
Not as much as his sons liked theirs.