Father most certainly knows best
Get off Archie Manning's back. I, for one, have absolutely no problem with him telling the Chargers not to draft his son Eli last weekend, nor do I have a problem with the way he handled himself throughout the drama that followed. On its simplest level, this was merely a father looking out for the best interests of his kid.
But this goes much deeper than that, you see, because from 1971-1982, Archie Manning played for the New Orleans Saints. The second overall pick in the 1971 draft, Archie developed into a fine quarterback and a fan favorite.
But he also was a moving target for opposing defenses.
For 11 years, he was bruised, battered and beaten with the Saints before getting traded to Houston in 1982 and ending his career two years later with the Vikings. His numbers were never overly impressive - his best pro seasons were 1978-1980, a three-year run that netted Manning the 1978 MVP award - but it's kind of tough to deliver grade-A production when you're surrounded by grade-C talent. He threw for 115 touchdowns against 154 interceptions as a Saint while playing behind some of the worst offensive lines in league history, and during his 11-year career with New Orleans, the Saints were an dreadful 41-105-3, with their best finish coming in 1979 at 8-8.
One year later, they went 1-15 even though Archie had the best statistical season of his career, throwing for a then-team record 3,716 yards with 23 touchdowns and an 81.8 QB rating.
Some say Archie could've been a Hall-of-Fame quarterback with the right franchise in the right situation. That may be a bit generous, but everyone agrees that while his career suffered statistically because he was stuck on such a lousy team for so long, Manning's years with the Saints also wore him down physically, missing the entire 1976 campaign with a shoulder injury and sitting out several more games with various other ailments.
Coming out of Ole Miss, Archie Manning was destined for superstardom. But because the Saints failed to surround him with quality talent, he fell well short of those early expectations. Playing in the NFL is a dream come true for anybody who actually makes it, but looking back on his career you can bet Manning recognizes everything that those years in New Orleans cost him.
So why wouldn't Archie want to spare Eli that same fate with another abysmal franchise like the Chargers? As a parent, don't we want our children to benefit from our own mistakes and misfortunes rather than repeat them?
It's simple: In San Diego, Eli could've become the next Archie Manning; in New York, he could be the next Peyton Manning.
Sure, the Mannings kicked the entire Chargers organization and the city of San Diego in the gut with their stance, but if the Chargers were so offended by Archie's opinion of their team, maybe they should work on overhauling their shoddy reputation instead of crying to the press.
Look, Eli Manning wasn't the only guy in last weekend's draft who didn't want to play for the Chargers. He's just the only one who said something about it, as far as we know. If the Chargers are looking for somebody to blame for this whole mess, a mirror is the ideal place to start the search.
Archie Manning didn't draft Ryan Leaf in 1998. Eli Manning didn't pass on Michael Vick in 2001. Peyton Manning didn't sign David Boston to a seven-year, $47 million deal only to pawn him off on the Miami Dolphins a year later for a sixth-round draft pick. The San Diego Chargers made all those decisions and their reputation has rightly suffered because of them.
Where would Peyton Manning be if the Chargers had selected him first in 1998 instead of the Colts? That's impossible to predict, of course, but he most likely wouldn't be the reigning MVP and he probably wouldn't be working on a 96-game consecutive starts streak, not while lining up behind that San Diego offensive line for the past six years.
The Chargers were 5-11 in 1998. They were 4-12 last year. How's that for progress? In between, they've gone 22-42. They haven't finished above .500 since 1995, which incidentally was the last time the Bolts made the playoffs, and they've cycled through five different coaches in the past eight years, with rumors of Marty Schottenheimer's imminent dismissal also heating up.
What father would want his son to be part of such futility and instability?
Archie Manning had a 15-year NFL career but never once played in a postseason game. The Saints shuffled through seven coaches during his 11 years in New Orleans. You can see the parallels. Archie could too.
Some say that Eli Manning should've been thrilled to join the Chargers, motivated to convert the sorry organization from a perpetual loser to a perennial winner. Hey, I agree with the theory -- that's exactly what brother Peyton has done in Indianapolis. But you also have to feel confident that the organization is going to give you the help you need to pull off such a radical transformation. The Saints never did that for Archie and the Chargers have offered no proof that they could do it for Eli.
Eli Manning wasn't going to rebuild the Chargers on his own. Archie knew that all too well.
Others claim that because the elder Manning is so synonymous with the NFL, he should've known better than to make such a request of the Chargers, but they've got that backward. If Archie Manning were an accountant instead of an NFL retiree with 15 years under his belt, he'd just be thrilled that his son made it into the league, regardless of the helmet he'd be wearing. But in many ways his actions are more justifiable because of all he endured with the Saints - Archie, maybe more so than anyone else in the game, understood how disastrous a career with the Chargers could've turned out for his son.
So he made it right.
Parents protect their children. It's nature. Archie Manning saw his son run out in front of a rusted-out truck with a Chargers decal on the bumper and he pulled him back onto the curb, away from danger. Twenty-three years earlier, Archie himself got flattened by a truck with Louisiana plates, and he refused to let the same thing happen to Eli.
I've got no problem with that.
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