Archie Manning: A Hall of Fame Dad
Thoughts on a legend and the sadness our families have in common
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.
I was lucky enough to see Peyton Manning play at the high school, collegiate and professional levels of his football career, and it was awesome to see him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month.
Watching his speech and his father’s introduction, I was reminded of how much Archie made it all possible. Sure, for Peyton, being the son of an SEC legend turned professional quarterback and a homecoming queen had its benefits, but before Archie became ARCHIE! at Ole Miss, he had to deal with his father’s suicide.
Archie was 20 years old in the summer of 1969, entering his sophomore year and his first year with the Rebel varsity. Between summer session and the start of fall camp, he went home to Drew, Miss., to spend time with his mom, who the family called “Sis,” his dad, “Buddy,” and sister, Pam.
The family was scheduled to attend a wedding, but Buddy wanted to stay home. He told his son to come home early so the two could catch up and enjoy a steak dinner together. When Archie returned, he found his dad dead, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot. He called the authorities and then rang a family friend to ask that he delay his mom and sister from coming home. Next, he got to work cleaning the site, going as far as to burn the blood-stained mattress and linens, so that his mom and sister wouldn’t have to bear the additional trauma of the sight.
Buddy had suffered a stroke and his farm supply business was seemingly going under. The Mannings believe that he thought he would be a strain and would be better off without him – a common belief of the suicidal.
Initially, Archie decided to quit school, get a job, and support his mother and sister, but his mom was adamant that he continue to follow his dream, especially with the opportunity that was right before him. He did and became a football legend in the process. While he was lauded for his play, Archie was also focused on his growing family. He turned the tragedy into a guiding principle to put them first, tell his wife and children he loved them, and provide a sanctuary for them to grow and develop in a healthy atmosphere.
Archie decided to turn pain and loss into a mission. There have been many examples of his success — two of his sons are two-time Super Bowl champions. His third overcame a devastating career-ending football injury to become known as the most affable of the bunch. With one son inducted, a second a strong possibility, and a new generation already making headlines, he deserves a lot of credit for his family’s success. And this aspect of his life should be lauded.
I empathize with the trials the Manning family has faced because my family has been affected by my grandfather’s suicide.
On Mardi Gras night in February 1977, my mom, 18, and my dad, 21, were getting ready to leave her parents’ home to watch the Mistick Krewe of Comus parade when they heard a gunshot in the backyard.
They rushed out to discover that my grandfather had a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest and was gone.
In an instant, he changed the trajectory of not only his life, but those he left behind. A funeral home director, his partner embezzled money and he fell on tough financial times, did the best to protect his family, but, ultimately, succumbed to the thought that his wife and two daughters would be better off without him. Although they tried their best to deal with it, my grandmother never got over his suicide; neither did my aunt, nor my mom.
He didn’t know it, but my mom, at the time of his death, was pregnant with me.
I was born in the shadow of his death, and his absence has cast a pall over everyone he left behind. For much of my childhood and adolescence, he and his death were taboo subjects. As an adult, I began a dialogue with my mom about my granddad, mental health and our family’s experiences.
I’m forever grateful for the decisions my mom has made to ensure our family’s health and well-being. As a fan of football and fellow man, I sure am glad Archie did the same for his.
People are realizing that not everyone’s brain chemistry is perfect, that some need help – therapeutically and medicinally – and that’s OK. Much like a diabetic that needs help regulating their insulin, some people need help regulating the chemicals in their brains.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans live with a serious mental condition, and only about 50 percent of them receive treatment. As we continue to endure the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sure more people will be affected by mental health issues. I’m glad that we live in a time when stigmas are fading. If you or someone you know or love is struggling, help and resources are available. So is love and compassion. Reach out. You are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.