Man­ning a quin­tes­sen­tial Dis­tin­guished Amer­i­can

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

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 Amer-

ica. 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.

Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis / As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Archie Man­ning re­ceived the Dis­tin­guished Amer­i­can award from the Wal­ter Camp Foot­ball Foun­da­tion.

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