Talking football with Archie, Peyton, Eli

AP Photo/Ed Bailey

It's no good talking about the NFL draft unless you've talked to the first family of the NFL draft -- the Mannings of New Orleans. Dad Archie went second overall (1971) and the two sons (Peyton and Eli) went first overall (1998 and 2004). That's a bigger draft family than the Busches of St. Louis.

I corralled all three of them in one room in Vail, Colo., not long ago. It was a chance for the two brothers to give each other mountainous piles of crap while poor Archie, as usual, officiated.

They talked about growing up Manning, Super Bowl wins, the one rule the NFL needs to change, wedgies, how to cheat on concussion tests and, of course, their infamous ESPN commercial:

Q: You guys were both overall No. 1s. Are you embarrassed to be sitting here with a guy who only went second?

Peyton: Yeah, a little. Plus, Mom went fourth one year in the CFL draft.

Eli: When I was at Ole Miss, I called my dad up one time and said, "Hey, Dad, have you ever looked at your stats here? They're not very good."

Q: They must've been pretty good. They changed all the speed limits on campus to 18 to honor him.

Archie: Yeah, but after Eli made that play to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl [in 2008], I got about 30 texts from people saying, "They're going to change the speed limit to 10 [Eli's jersey number] now."

Q: Peyton, what do you remember about the Colts taking you?

Peyton: I remember talking to Mr. Irsay [Colts owner Jim] at the combine, and saying, "Tell me what you're going to do." And he said they'd tell me in March. They were making it so dramatic, not making up their mind [between he and QB Ryan Leaf of Washington State]. And finally I was in his office one day and I said, "I would like to play for you but if you don't pick me, I will kick your ass for the next 15 years."

[Archie slaps his forehead]

Peyton: That whole first-round draft choice thing isn't very long lasting. That's what I tell these guys -- just get drafted and then be great.

Q: Who's the best athlete of the three?

Archie: Me. [laughing] I could outrun some guys in my day.

Eli: Me ... I don't know. We're always trying to prove that. I remember one time, I was 17 and Peyton was 23 maybe. He was in college. He was home and we were playing one-on-one [hoops]. And it was just basically tackle basketball. Nobody got an open layup. And whoever lost didn't talk the rest of the day. So he had to go back to college and we promised to have a rematch. So the next time he came home, we went out there for the rematch and the goal was gone. Just gone. Dad took it off the wall. Mom made him.

Q: Who's fastest?

[Archie and Eli laugh knowingly.]

Eli: Peyton has never been timed in the 40.

Peyton: Well, I always had a little hammy problem when it came time to run the 40 times. But my 40 time is not going to make or break it.

Eli: It may break it.

Karl [Eli] gave me a killer wedgie once. Got me up against a wall on a golf trip. He had all the leverage. But it wasn't an atomic wedgie.

-- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning

Q: Peyton is five years older. Did Eli ever get to kick his ass?

Peyton: Absolutely not. But he gave me a killer wedgie once. Got me up against a wall on a golf trip. He had all the leverage. But it wasn't an atomic wedgie.

Q: What about in that ESPN commercial you're all in? [Peyton and Eli roughhouse at the back of a tour of ESPN, much to Archie's disapproval.] Looked like the two of them beat each other up pretty good in that.

Archie: The director says to me, "OK, what would you do if your boys were screwing around like that?" And the boys both said, "We'd get The Look!" So he called action and I got it in one take! People come up to me all the time now and go, ''That's the exact same look my dad used to give me!"

Peyton: It was so not fair. People go, "You got to kick Eli and it looked like it hurt him." But I only got one take. I had to get 10 wet willies from Eli. And an ear infection.

Eli: I just didn't feel like I was getting it right. Not quite getting in there deep enough. So I asked for a few retakes.

Peyton: A few?

Eli: He got about five punches on my shoulder. I said, "Hey Peyton, don't punch me so hard in the shoulder. That's my throwing shoulder." And of course, the next take he just hauls back and really slugs me. After that it was serious. We just started going at it. Pictures were being knocked down along those walls. The director had to cut.

Q: Sounds like that "Saturday Night Live" you did [in 2007], Peyton, when you were strafing little kids with footballs [as part of a United Way spoof].

Peyton: We got out there and I told the director, "I don't know if I can throw the ball at those kids." It was just a Nerf ball that they'd scraped the "Nerf" word off it, but still. And he talked me into doing it. I felt better when I heard a parent of one of the actor kids saying to the director, "Hey, how come he's not throwing the ball at MY kid's face? I want him to throw the ball at my kids' face!"

Q: Eli, you can relate, right?

Archie: Oh, yeah he can. When Eli was 12 and Peyton was 17, Peyton needed somebody to throw to. Cooper had gone off to college [where he was a standout receiver at Ole Miss until a degenerative spine problem ended his career] and Peyton needed to work on his throws. It was kind of comical.

Peyton: It was so sad. I'd be throwing to a person who can't catch.

Eli: I was 12! They'd stuff me in a large T-shirt filled with padding, then stuff a bunch of pillows in there, too. And Peyton's arm had gotten too strong for the backyard, so we had to go out in the street. Our house is in an area of New Orleans where tours go by. And I'd be out there getting slammed by these rocket throws. And people would drive by and think, "What is wrong with this kid who keeps getting hit with balls on purpose?"

Q: Eli was real quiet, right?

Peyton: OK, driving him to school. His school was right on a direct line with my school, so I had to drive him. But I'd have a lot on my mind, right? I'm in high school. I've got a game that night. Test. Whatever. So about 10 times during the year, I'd pull into the school parking lot and realize Eli was still in the backseat. Just sitting there! And I'm like, "Eli, you let me drive right by your school! Why didn't you say anything?"

Eli: Well, I was in fifth grade. I had a lot on my mind, too. Girl troubles.

Peyton: Sheesh.

Eli: And the worst part was, you wouldn't even drive me back. One time, you called a cab!

Peyton: I'd call Mom.

Archie: Eli's gotten everybody back. He's a prankster. He can turn cell phones into any other language in about seven seconds. He'll do it to complete strangers too. Chinese, Japanese.

Peyton: Yeah, he'll borrow some perfect stranger's phone. "Hey, can I borrow your phone?" And he'll change it to German. All the settings are gone. Everything.

Archie: And if you're on a golf trip with him, don't go to bed first. You will wake up with Sharpie marks all over you.

Peyton: Oh, yeah, he'll write across your forehead, color in your ears.

Eli: The best is to draw on the back of their calves, because they won't know it until they're on the golf course. They're wearing shorts and people are going, "What's that?" And it's always some kind of inappropriate drawing.

Q: And yet you'll help him during the season with info on other teams, right?

Peyton: Yeah, except if we're playing each other. But we'll share tidbits about who the other one is playing. Especially if they're playing somebody in the AFC South [Indianapolis' division]. I'll give him all he wants.

Eli: Yeah, like we played Jacksonville and he gave me a few things and we beat them. But then they played the [Philadelphia] Eagles and they lose!

Q: And yet Peyton said one of the proudest moments of his life was watching your Super Bowl.

Peyton: Yeah, Eli's big play in the Super Bowl. I watch it and I'm like, "How did he get that pass off?"

Eli: I remember after that catch, they went to replay. And I said to David [Tyree, the receiver], "Did you catch the ball?" And he goes, "Yes, yes I did." And I said, "Don't lie to me. You're a Christian man, don't lie to me." Because I need to know what the situation is going to be as soon as possible. Are we going to have a third down? Are we going to have a first down? What? Because I've asked receivers, "Did you catch it?" And they'll say, "Yes, absolutely I caught it." And then I'll look up at the replay on the scoreboard and the thing bounces three times before it even gets to him.

Peyton: But you have to watch that [Tyree] play closely, because when he thought there was no way to get out of it, he was about to shovel it to his left guard!

Eli: Well, you get desperate. You're looking for any white jersey. But when I saw the replay, I'm like, "Why is [guard Chris] Snee blocking no one five yards ahead of me?"

Peyton [sarcastically]: You should've passed it to him. Ya'll still would have won.

Q: Archie, do you remember much about Peyton's Super Bowl win [in 2007 against the Chicago Bears]?

Archie: I just remember how hard it was raining. The replay doesn't do justice to rain. I thought Prince would get electrocuted.

Q: The game is so fast and violent. As a dad, do you worry about them?

Archie: When I played, the collisions weren't as bad because the guys weren't in such great shape [like they are] now. Now, they're bigger and stronger than ever. I have two grandsons [He now has three with Peyton's twins arriving March 31]. And I ask myself sometimes: Do I really want them to play?

Q: What did you think last season in the game with the Jets, when blood was just gushing from Eli's head?

Peyton: That was overacting.

Eli: Those 12 stitches weren't overacting.

Q: What do defensive ends say to you after they sack you?

Eli: Sometimes they say, "Hey, I'm gonna see you here again in a few minutes."

Peyton: [Baltimore Raven linebacker] Ray Lewis is such a nice guy, but he has this habit of using your body to help himself up after a sack. You know, he really leans into you in order to get up. ...

Eli: Late hits bug me.

Peyton: Yeah, guys get called for late hits and they get fined --

Eli: Fifteen hundred dollars! These guys have millions! Fifteen hundred dollars? That's nothing!

Peyton: And they can write it off on their taxes! It's like, "I'm so glad that you can write off my broken rib, buddy."

Q: How do you feel about all the new research about concussions that's coming out?

Peyton: They have these new [brain] tests we have to take. Before the season, you have to look at 20 pictures and turn the paper over and then try to draw those 20 pictures. And they do it with words, too. Twenty words, you flip it over, and try to write those 20 words. Then, after a concussion, you take the same test and if you do worse than you did on the first test, you can't play. So I just try to do badly on the first test.

[Archie slaps his forehead again.]

Q: Are we going to have a season this year?

Peyton: I hope so. All I want to do is play football, and I'm running out of time. I can't afford to miss a year. [He's 35.] Eli could make it up, but not me.

Q: So what are you doing during the lockout?

Eli: Peyton and I went in before the lockout started and got everything we need. We're training every day.

Q: Archie, let's finish with you. You had this terrific college and pro career. And then you have three star sons, two of whom grow up to be Super Bowl MVPs. Does it ever just stop you in your tracks?

Archie: You know, I said to [Olivia] one night -- I was in bed, reading something about the boys in a magazine -- and I said, "Honey, we've been married 35 years now. Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think you and I would have children that would do these amazing things?"

And she said, "Archie, very seldom are you in my wildest dreams."

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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.

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