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Manningby Archie Manning
Synopses & Reviews
"If you were to ask Archie Manning what there was about football that made it so defining, so important to him early on, he would tell you that it wasn't. Not then. For a boy growing up in Drew, Mississippi, football was one of the games you played, that's all; one of the fun things you did, no goals intended.... "
From as early as I can remember, I played every sport available to me in school and on the playgrounds, which in Drew meant four: football, basketball, baseball, and track. Sports dominated your thinking if you were the least bit athletic, and more than a few of us went from one to another, season to season, like migrants. We were the embodiment of what used to be called (with great pride) the "Four-Letterman," the high school or college athlete who won letters in all four. You never hear that term anymore, except as it relates to a dubious vocabulary, because even at the lowest levels the seasons intrude or overlap and force you to make choices. If a kid plays two "organized" team sports now it's a lot.
But in Drew, and I daresay in most small towns in America in the '50s and '60s, there wasn't anything else. Only the big four. No soccer, no lacrosse, no field hockey. No swimming. Swimming was something you did in a lake or a pond in the summertime. Wrestling was something you watched on television. Forget about golf. Drew had no golf courses. No tennis either, to speak of. In the whole town there was only one tennis court, snugged in behind the Little League baseball field, mostly just taking up space. The net was always torn or down.
Drew is a farming town, founded in 1898 by officials of the Illinois Central Railroad. It squats in the middle of whatmaps call the "Delta" in northwest Mississippi. The Sunflower River meanders by to the west and the Tallahatchie to the cast, and the in-between is as flat as an ironing board. Cotton country, and soybeans and rice when the growing was good. Memphis qualifies as the nearest city — 120 miles north into Tennessee. The Drew population stagnated a long time ago at just over 2,000, a figure that still includes my eighty-one-year-old mother, who wouldn't live anywhere else. Asking Sis Manning to live in New Orleans would be like asking her to live on Mars. In Drew, you can count the stoplights on the fingers of one hand and still have a finger left over to point out that one of the lights didn't have a yellow caution in the middle until recently.
Our house was right across the street from the high school, and within walking distance of Main Street. "Every" house was within walking distance of Main Street. It was a walk-everywhere kind of town, surviving pretty well when I was a kid, but now on the ropes with the farming so bad. They had a fire downtown a couple years ago that took out five stores, and the stores never got rebuilt. But Drew has always been a safe, easy place to grow up, terrific for kids like me who loved the freedom of being outdoors at any and all hours. Its only notoriety, if you can call it that, is that the state penitentiary is eight miles up the road at Parchman. Most of the kids whose parents worked there as guards and administrators went to school in Drew. My sister Pam's husband, Vernon Shelton, an Ole Miss history major, teaches the prisoners there now. (Pam won't live anywhere else but Drew, either. Must be in the genes.)
Occasionally as a boy I'd go up toParchman myself to spend the night with a friend, and it always gave me an eerie feeling. They put hardened criminals in the penitentiary there, and every two or three weeks somebody would escape (the security was less than maximum), and when that happened, they'd make scary announcements on the radio: "A convict's out! Lock your doors!" But my daddy always said it wasn't something to lose sleep over because "if they break out of Parchman, they sure as heck aren't gonna stop in Drew." Most Drew people practiced what Daddy preached by never locking their doors. I'm not sure many of them even had locks.
Baseball, not football, was my first love, as it was with most kids I ran with in those days. It's the all-American game, where you don't have to weigh 250 pounds or be seven feet tall or run a ten-flat hundred to compete. An advantage baseball has over football when it comes to full-fledged team involvement (as opposed to backyard pickup games) is that no matter what position you play, you still get to do all the fun things: you get to hit, you get to field, you get to throw, you get to run the bases. And if you're a pitcher-the closest thing to quarterback-you get to pitch, too. But in football, if you're a guard or a tackle on either side of the line of scrimmage, you could go through life without ever touching the ball. In all but a handful of positions in football, you never do what most people (me included) would think of as the fun things: run the ball, pass it, catch it. Blocking and tackling are every bit as crucial, but you shouldn't have to do those things exclusively until you've at least had a taste of the others.
The inspiring personal story of a family, an athletic tradition, and fifty years of a great all-American game.
About the Author
Peyton Manning divides his time between New Orleans, Indianapolis, and East Tennessee.
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