I was a 3rd round draft pick from D-ll Lehigh University and feeling my way into the NFL. One transition from D-ll is just getting used to all the spectacular stadiums in the NFL. Taylor Field at Lehigh held about 14,000, so when I joined the Falcons the upgrade to Fulton County Stadium added about 50,000 seats to my typical college experience. The stadium back then that was the talk of the NFL was the New Orleans Saints Superdome. Opened in 1975, the Superdome seats 70,000 and is still in use.

In my first game in the Superdome our starting QB in the game was former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, who was going up against the Saints’ great Quarterback from Ole Miss, Archie Manning. I was passing time on the sidelines charting plays. Manning had been first team All-American at Mississippi and the 2nd overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft. Archie was (and still is) Southern Football Royalty. Did you know, the speed limit on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford is still 18 mph? Why? Because Archie wore #18!

Two Minute Warning

The game was a defensive battle that the Saints won 14-13. Our Heisman winner was 7 of 20 for 74 yds and one pick, while the Mississippi All-American was 6 for 14 and a grand total of 47 yds! Those were the times. But, it was a hard fought, tough, physical game. I recall one incident right before halftime where I thought our coach, Norm Van Brocklin, was going to get ejected. Understand, Norm never had a great love for referees… in fact, he despised them and would frequently invoke his displeasure at their calls. In this particular case I had a ringside seat standing next to Coach charting the offensive plays. As we approached the two minute warning the referee trotted over to Norm. Back then only designated captains could call timeout in an NFL game. It was protocol for the referees to check with the head coach on who were the designated captains.

Well, Norm saw the official heading his way. He had been pissed for the entire 2nd quarter about a holding call against us. As the ref approached, Norm starts waving his hand at the guy instructing him to go away. This quickly escalated as the ref carried out his required duties. I’m pretty sure the refs drew straws for this assignment! Finally, with the referee face to face with the Dutchman, he asks “Coach, two minutes left in the half, are you keeping the same two captans for the final two minutes”? Well, Norm’s eyes bulge and he starts looking around for something to … I’m not sure what? He finally, grabs the clipboard out of my hands and throws it up in the air over the referee and exclaims “No, we’re going to hold a f _ ing election and get two new captains!!!” The ref, with my play sheets raining down upon him, took that as a yes and trotted back out to mid-field. That was as close as I got to any contact in the game. As mentioned, the Falcons went down 14-13 to the home team Saints.

Post Game

We’ve all seen what happens at the end of an NFL game. Many of the players look up former college or even former pro teammates on the opposing team, share hugs and well wishes for the remainder of the season. Except if you’re a young QB in the league and you played at Lehigh University you don’t have many former teammates (I actually had two Lehigh teammates in the NFL at the time, but both were with the Giants) with whom to shoot the shit. So, I was standing there in the middle of the field staring straight up at the roof of the Superdome. It was amazing! Plus, I was trying to look busy. I was figuring out how long I could look interested in the dome roof before I retired to the visiting lockeroom to take a shower that was totally not required.

Out of nowhere, someone taps me on the shoulder. My initial guess was, somebody just walked into me while talking to a friend. But, there it was again, someone pulling at my jersey. I turned and couldn’t believe it was Archie Manning. He must have mistaken me for someone, right? But no, Archie is looking me in the eye and blood is running down his nose symbolic of his Gladiator-like performance. Before I could say anything stupid, Archie says, “Hey Kim, Archie Manning (sticks out his hand and offers a stiff shake) I just wanted to say congratulations on making it in the NFL. I hope you have a great career and I’ll be following your progress. Good luck.” He turns and trots off to the winning team’s locker room and the throng of reporters waiting to hear his version of the battle. I thought, “How does a star like Archie Manning even think about seeking out a backup QB on the opposing team for well wishes?” It’s a feeling and lesson I have held onto ever since, applying it myself whenever possible.

National Football Foundation

The Manning story doesn’t end there. Decades later I’m an executive with Turner Broadcasting and attending the annual National Football Foundation dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. I was at a table with some clients in the back of the room watching the induction of the current class into the College Football Hall of Fame. Archie Manning was, and still is, the Chairman of the National Football Foundation. He volunteers much time and energy to the cause of promoting and honoring the game of football.

Seeing Archie after all of these years (it was decades later) I decided if the opportunity arose I would say hello and tell him how much his kind words meant to me as a young NFL QB. At the end of the event, sure enough, there was a long line stacked up to meet Archie and/or snag an autograph. I joined in. When I finally got face to face with him, I shared the story and added, “I have closely watched your sons, Peyton and Eli in their college and pro careers and its no surprise to me they are not only true champions (both Super Bowl MVPs), but also well-spoken, polite, self-effacing individuals.” I also had the pleasure to meet Archie’s oldest son, Cooper, at several Ole Miss games while I was scouting for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Cooper’s football career as a highly recruited wide receiver at Isidore Newman HS ended suddenly after accepting a scholarship to Ole Miss. His freshman year Cooper was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine and pinching of nerves. However, it’s easy to see those same Manning traits in Cooper as well. I told Archie that the boys were a high compliment to both him and his wife, Olivia.

As I was in the middle of sharing the Superdome recap with Archie, he turns to the waiting line and apologizes for stepping away. He pulls me over from the crowd and says “Kim, you have no idea what it means to me for you to share this story. This has absolutely made my day and thank you so much.” Huh? He just did it again! I mean this guy is really too good to be true. I made his day? Wow. Another Manning moment to remember.

Arch Manning

Which brings me to the next generation of Mannings. Namely, Cooper’s son; Arch Manning. If you haven’t heard, Arch Manning is the #1 HS prospect in the class of 2023. His career at Isidore Newman HS (following his dad and uncles) in New Orleans as a four year starter included 8,539 yds passing with a .645 completion percentage, 115 TDs vs only 19 INTs. Arch rushed for another 748 yds and 19 TDs. Perhaps more importantly, these records surpassed uncle Eli’s passing yardage record and uncle Peyton’s passing TD records at Isidore Newman. So, the bragging rights are generational.

But, in the Manning family, values appear to be generational as well. Arch was the #1 recruit for 2023 in the country. Period. He was offered a scholarship by many of the top 20 programs and in the end, he visited Alabama, Georgia and Texas. Last summer he made his choice official: The Longhorns!

The Texas choice surprised some simply because it wasn’t Mississippi where his grandfather, father and uncle had all matriculated and played. Certainly Lane Kiffin had been all over Arch for the past several seasons. But others were a bit surprised since former 5 star recruit Quinn Ewers was already the incumbent starting Quarterback at UT last year, and still has several years of eligibility. At any rate, Arch’s journey to college stardom will be earned and not given away as a recruiting promise.

Name, Image & Likeness (NIL)

There is another interesting element at play in the Manning story. Arch Manning and his family have announced he will not accept any NIL money from sponsors until he has proven himself on the field. Archie is quoted as telling Arch “you can take NIL when you become a player, when you start.” Cooper Manning stated to Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian, “If there is a message to tell any other UT recruits, it’s that Arch Manning is coming to Texas because he loves the University of Texas. He loves the coaches, and he loves the program. This is not about NIL.”

Wow. Let’s put this in perspective. Last season Alabama Quarterback Bryce Young reportedly made $3.5 mil while playing college ball. You see him all over commercials for Dr Pepper, Nissan and other brands. He’s actually pretty good. As reported by the NIL valuation site On3.com USC’s QB Caleb Williams made $3.2 mil, CJ Stround at Ohio State made $2.4 mil and Stetson Bennett at Georgia pulled in $1.3mil. Closer to home, Quinn Ewers, the Texas starter last year cut a deal with Lucchese Bootmaker and should be well over $ 1 mil in NIL money this season. He is also spreading it around as he posed with 12 UT offensive linemen holding Luchese leather bags with his quote, “Only the best for the guys who take care of me.” Hmmmm. Makes that NIL swag pretty tempting when you can pass it around to teammates.

But not, apparently, to Arch Manning. FYI, On3.com has already projected Arch’s NIL valuation at $3.5mil, and that’s an estimate of what he could get RIGHT NOW, before throwing a pass in a Texas varsity game. Oh, and the highest On3.com NIL evaluation? A high school basketball star named Bronny James. Yup, Lebron’s son. His valuation while still in HS? $5.9 million.

Now, I am fully aware that Arch Manning and his family are in a very unique situation to make this announcement. It’s easy to deduce the Manning family will get by just fine until when and if Arch cuts an NIL deal. Personally, I think the NIL payments to college athletes in all sports are worthy and a long time coming. I can guarantee you that I would have jumped on an NIL deal as an undergraduate at Lehigh. Furthermore, many of these athletes are not only subsidizing their college careers, they are also supporting their families.

$13 Million NIL Deal?

But, the NIL story is still only “half-baked.” In some cases it is out of control. Case in point: Florida 4 star recruit Jaden Rashada decommitted from the Gators after he received a letter from the Gator Collective wishing to terminate his NIL deal due to a lack of funds. Reported by Fox News earlier this year, the Gator Collective “is a fan club that connects athletes with fans while allowing the athletes to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness.” It was reported that the Rashada NIL deal was a $13 mil commitment over four years. Say what???? Seriously??? BTW, Rashada was the # 7 ranked QB in Arch Manning’s 2023 class.

Eventually, Rashada was granted his release from Florida and signed with Arizona State. There has been no announcements on any related NIL deals to that signing. It should also be noted that the Gator Collective is not part of the University of Florida nor its athletic department. They also, pretty clearly, lack experience in valuing an NIL deal, as do most NIL fund-raising “collectives” as they are called. The problem is a lack of regulation and governance. Since 2019 when the state of California enacted the Fair Pay to Fair Play act, allowing college athletes to be compensated, the NCAA has taken a back seat on governance in this area. Others have sought federal and state oversight to little or no avail. So, it’s the Wild Wild West, and colleges and booster groups are largely figuring it out themselves. The proverbial Cluster F***. The first step to saneness is oversight that ensures NIL offers are not attached to recruiting. Bidding wars will put a lot of schools (and boosters) out of business fast. NIL deals should only be proposed AFTER the recruiting commitment. Much more on this in future discussions…

For now, I’m happy to hear Arch Manning’s decision did not rely on outside booster money. I’m not surprised he had the guidance to make a choice based on people, teammates, and a coach he believes in. He gets it honestly from a guy who shared just a touch of family values with me many, many years ago. It’s nice to know the torch still glows. As Archie Manning said, “You’ll take it when you earn it,” and it appears Arch has a ways to go. As an early enrollee at UT he participated in the 2023 Spring Game, and his debut was a bit pedestrian; going 5 of 13 for 30 yds. The backup appears to be Maalik Murphy, a 4 star in his own right who had a nice Spring Game with 9 of 13 for 165 yds and a TD. But, Quinn Ewers lived up to his 5 star rep with 16 of 23, 195 yds and a TD. Following Spring practice, Steve Sarkisian announced Ewers will be the UT starter in the Fall.

So the journey begins. Football is all about competition and there will be no shortage of it at the Quarterback position at the University of Texas for the foreseeable future. Football is not necessarily about individual generosity and thoughtfulness. I can tell you that life in an NFL locker room can be hard core. But, Arch Manning is carrying some very special genes. I’m guessing win or lose, the UT locker room is enriched thanks to the presence of yet another generation of the Mannings. Congratulations Arch. “I hope you have a great career and I’ll be following your progress.”

Share it!