All these elements come into play in Ribowsky’s latest biography, In the Name of the Father: Family, Football and the Manning Dynasty (Liveright Publishing; hardback; $29.95; 378 pages).
The Manning family can safely be considered a football dynasty, with three quarterbacks who have combined for four Super Bowl rings, 1,003 regular-season touchdowns, 147,533 passing yards and 332 victories. Peyton Manning is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage (71,940) and touchdown passes (539). His younger brother, Eli Manning, is eighth all-time in TD passes with 339 and has thrown for 51,682 yards.
Named the Southeastern Conference’s player of the year in 1969, Archie was pummeled as a pro. He was saddled with playing for some awful New Orleans Saints teams from 1971 to 1981 before ending his career in 1984 after brief stints in Houston and Minnesota. He threw 125 touchdown passes but was sacked a bone-rattling 396 times — 340 of them coming as a Saint.
As soon as Archie took the snap, “he was runnin’ for his damn life,” former Saints teammate Derland Moore tells Ribowsky.
Ribowsky not only recounts the history of Archie and his two sons, but also gives good play to Peyton and Eli’s oldest brother, Cooper, a wide receiver who had a promising career before he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
“Son, go get a girlfriend,” Archie would tell Peyton. “Go to a movie. You need to get out more.”
Eli was inscrutable and always under control, his work habits not as disciplined as Peyton’s but his desire to win just as intense. Archie was “the rosy-cheeked, freckle-faced one-time quarterback of the future” who “begat and handed down all the glory, glitter, and agita of fame.”
Ribowsky’s mission is flesh out those personalities, and he does a credible job.
He has had plenty of practice. Ribowsky’s catalog of biographies is diverse and hopscotches between sports figures and musical icons. He has published biographies of Al Davis (1991), Satchel Paige (1994), Josh Gibson (1996), Phil Spector (2000), The Supremes (2009), Stevie Wonder and the Temptations (2010), Howard Cosell (2012), Tom Landry (2013), Lynyrd Skynyrd (2015), Otis Redding and James Taylor (2016), and Hank Williams (2017).
In his biography about the Mannings, Ribowsky’s prose is direct and insightful.
He certainly has a way with descriptive language and does not hold back. He refers to former New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo as “a mustached mannequin,” Drew sheriff Snake Williams as “a Buford T. Justice type” and Indianapolis coach Jim Mora as “gaunt and crazy-eyed.”
“That he could construe ignoring black people with black people in defense of his town is revealing of a conditioned form of racism,” Ribowsky writes.
Elisha Archibald Manning, known as Buddy, was not among the parents who wanted to boycott a district basketball game when it was learned that Drew High School’s opponents had black players.
Buddy was “built like a fireplug” and cut from the cloth of southern men who rarely “let their soft side show,” Ribowsky writes. And when he found out he had lung cancer, he meticulously planned his suicide, shooting himself while his family was attending a wedding on Aug. 16, 1969. Archie found his father sprawled on the couch, and the family’s grief was balanced “by either shame or Southern stoicism,” Ribowsky writes.
Ribowsky’s attention to detail is evident in that incident and in many others during the football careers of the Manning family. He traces the Manning line to the family that came to Virginia in 1745. In 1803, Elisha Archibald Manning was born in South Carolina and would travel west as an adult to Mississippi during the 1840s. His great-grandson, Buddy, lived in the small town of Drew, was Archie’s father.
The book has plenty of sports detail, too, as Ribowsky chronicles the football triumphs and failures of Archie, Peyton and Eli. The emphasis on Archie’s career is weighted toward his spectacular career at Ole Miss, while the pro careers of Peyton and Eli get stronger treatment. After all, they had much more success at the pro level than their father, thanks to better teammates and better coaching.
The highs of Peyton’s two Super Bowls and his rivalry with Tom Brady receive the full treatment. Eli’s two Super Bowl wins, including the “helmet catch” by David Tyree that led to an upset win against the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, are also highlights.
All is not rosy, however. In addition to Buddy’s suicide — the darkest moment in the book — Ribowsky writes of Manning’s 1996 encounter with Jamie Naughright Whited, an assistant trainer at the University of Tennessee whose sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of Knoxville had Manning’s name redacted from documents released to the public. Despite a settlement and a gag order, Peyton “just could not let it go,” as he would refer to it in a book he wrote with his father. That would lead to more money lost and embarrassment sporadically over the next two decades.
The Mannings continue to stay in the spotlight. Eli is still active, although his surprise benching last year by McAdoo not only broke a consecutive-game streak, but also brought questions about his playing career to the fore after fourteen seasons. Peyton, a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2021, remains “hopelessly addicted to attention,” Ribowsky writes, as evidenced by the commercials he continues to appear. Intense on the field, Peyton’s ability to poke fun at himself in commercials and skits have become YouTube classics.
As for Archie, “the real world went only as far as his family, his only real refuge,” Ribowsky writes of the patriarch, who “is not regal, wears no championship rings,” but chairs the National Football Foundation and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Ribowsky has meshed three distinct personalities into an entertaining biography that should have appeal even to those who are not necessarily fans of the Mannings. It’s a book about football, and about life. And, it’s a fun read.