Viewpoint Manning the quintessential Distinguished American

January 13, 2019 GMT

NEW HAVEN — Archie Manning, tuxedo, bowtie, looking as distinguished as any Distinguished American in Walter Camp history, took a seat on one of the cushioned chairs that serve as the visitors bench for Yale basketball games.

He looked around Payne Whitney gym, considered the building’s Gothic Revival style, cozy environs, broke into a smile and then broke into an easy stream of consciousness.

“I’ll tell you, this is some place,” Manning said late Saturday afternoon. “Being down South it’s kind of hard, but I try to keep up with the Ivy League. Buddy Teevens (Dartmouth head coach) still runs our football camp, has for 23 years, so I keep up with Dartmouth. Buddy’s a good guy.

“This is my first time to the Walter Camp dinner, first time to Yale and New Haven, but I know all about it. Peyton came here with the All-America team. Like I said, I know all about it. I’ve been to the Maxwell, been to the Davey O’Brien. The Walter Camp has a great reputation.”

Over the years, Manning said he has met some of the Walter Camp folks. Past presidents, members of the board, they’d been down to Ole Miss. He keeps chatting unbroken, unencumbered for nearly five minutes. Somewhere along the line, you realize Archie Manning shouldn’t be sitting on the visitors bench. He should be on the home side. Men like him, decent men, are the best of us. They are America. They are the home team. Always.

Camp’s Distinguished American Award has football ties, yet it is not necessarily given to a football person. Success in business, public service, private life, a record of dedication to his fellow man. They all go into the selection process.

“I’m really honored by this,” Manning said. “I went through the list of former winners. It’s a who’s who. It is really special. There is so much pride here in the Camp Foundation.”

Red Grange and George Halas were named Distinguished Americans. So was Bob Hope and the New York police, fire and emergency medical service personnel after 9/11. Eddie Robinson, Steve Young, Carm Cozza, Bill Walsh: Yes, Archie Manning fits perfectly — if for no other reason than he and Olivia raised their boys to be the kind of athletic role models that we’d all want our kids to be.

Manning was a terrific quarterback at Ole Miss and in the NFL, mostly for the Saints. He is a known humanitarian, doing work for cystic fibrosis, Special Olympics, Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army. He has been the chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The Manning family has operated its passing academy for hundreds of players annually in Louisiana.

“I’ll be 70 this year,” he said. “I’m involved with the NFF and this is the 150th year of college football. We have a program going called Football Matters. I run into mothers and grandmothers and they’re concerned. I get it. I get it 100 percent.

“Football isn’t for everyone. But I’m really proud of some of the advancements in safety the last few years. There’s no greater testimony than the Ivy League (banning full-contact tackling) in practice. We’ve got to continue to work at it. It’s a great game. There is a lot of value for young men and I’m not talking only pros or college. I’m talking high school.”

At one end of Payne Whitney were All-American college football players, in tuxedos, shooting baskets. Larry Fitzgerald, Alumnus of the Year, stopped to shake hands with Manning. Jake Olson, the blind USC snapper and Perseverance Award winner, sat nearby with his cool guide dog.

Time was running short before the awards dinner.

I had two questions for Archie Manning.

First, are you satisfied with the four-team College Football Playoff?

Manning was among the first 13 appointed to the CFP selection committee. At that time, he was not critical of the BCS process. He would take a careful approach to the playoff, determined to see a fair process. He was not big on extending the college season for too many games.

We talked about Clemson becoming the first team since Penn in 1897 to go 15-0. I brought up the 1894 Yale team being the only one to go 16-0 and having that vicious win over Harvard, known alternately as the “Springfield Massacre” and “Hampden Park Bloodbath.” The teams didn’t play for the next two years. Games like that eventually would lead to intervention by President Teddy Roosevelt and reform.

“I like the four-team playoff,” Manning said. “I had to resign (in early 2015), I had another neck fusion. I couldn’t get to all the meetings. I kept up with it really close. Look, No. 5 and No. 6 are always going to be upset. That’s the way it’s always going to be.

“I know how hard the committee works. I know they are not biased. We cleared that up immediately. Check your allegiance at the door. You’ve probably voted in polls over the years. You check it out; you vote. Do you watch 25 games on video? Do you channel an unbelievable amount of data? And then spend 48 hours with 12 other people.”

Alabama. Clemson. They have faced each other four years in a row in the playoffs, three times for the national championship.

“There are people who say we need to go to six, or we need to go to eight. I get it. I still think four is a good number. I say, ‘Go beat Clemson. Go beat Alabama.’ I know it’s hard. Keep sawing wood.”

Archie knew the second question about his son’s possible retirement was coming. After all, we are in Giants country.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I went to see Eli on Thursday. I’m going back tomorrow before going home (to New Orleans). He went in and talked to the general manager (Dave Gettleman). He said it went fine. One thing about ol’ Eli, he doesn’t get …”

Archie held both hands parallel to indicate his boy doesn’t show too much emotion.

“I think if Eli was beat up and didn’t feel good and had some injuries, now would probably be a good time to say let’s move on,” Manning said. “He feels good. It’s really hard to cash it in when you feel good.

“The games this year, when they ran the ball, they found some balance. They’ll continue to think about it. We’ll see what the general manager wants to do and go from there. Eli has a pretty good attitude about things.”

And Dad?

“I’m good either way,” Archie said. “I really am. Look, it was pretty easy for me. I had gotten pretty beat up. It was time. Peyton, too. It’s still not easy. You’re so used to doing it. When you feel good, you can play and run a ballclub, it’s hard. He might change his mind next week and say, ‘Hey, it’s been great, I’m healthy, I’m happy.’ When he sees me limping around this weekend, he may say, ‘Maybe I should get out.’ ”

The Distinguished American laughed.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123