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The Book of Manning


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Manning family has left an indelible mark on the Southeastern Conference and the NFL. 

Tuesday night on ESPN, the "SEC Storied" documentary The Book of Manning provides a behind-the-scenes look at how arguably the first family of football was shaped.

It starts with Archie Manning's childhood, and how the loss of his father impacted the rest of his life and his relationship with his children.

Manning said he even nixed the idea of the documentary after filming had begun, but he was convinced by his wife. 

"Olivia kind of insisted, this story, maybe my grandchildren would want to see it and need to see it," Manning said on a conference call about the documentary. "So when my wife tells me to do something, I usually do it, and we're really pleased with it."

There are some great lines in the documentary.

On Manning's hard-nosed freshman football coach at Ole Miss, teammate Bubba Tollison said, "If you could make it through Wobble Davidson, you could run barefooted naked through hell and you wouldn't even be sunburned when you came out on the other side."

After looking at Manning's prolific college career -- including a game he played with a cast on his broken left arm -- the documentary turns to the lives of his children, Cooper, Peyton and Eli.

A fun section of the film shows Cooper and Peyton playing football growing up. And Peyton didn't exactly think the odds were on his side. 

"I was three years old, Cooper was five and his good friend Richard was six," Peyton recalls in the documentary. "Somehow the teams ended up those two versus me."

That provides for some entertaining footage.

"You talk about growing up, were you a sore loser?" Cooper said of Peyton. "He takes it hard."

Archie was filming all along the way.

"I got one of those big cameras when they were getting popular. The thing was huge," Archie laughed. "You love your kids and you want to capture some of these things, never thinking I'd be capturing for something like this, just to save and for them to watch one day and our grandchildren to watch. So yeah, it's a long time ago and pretty funny stuff."

The film, directed by Rory Karpf, goes through the high school careers of all three Manning boys -- including a season of Peyton throwing to Cooper -- and then delves into the diagnosis that cut Cooper's football career short.

After signing with Ole Miss as a wide receiver, Cooper was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Peyton wrote his older brother a letter telling him he would dedicate the remainder of his football career to him.

"I think one thing I like so much about the documentary, that Cooper's role in there is equal to Peyton and Eli's and that's the way it should be," Archie said. "His story of his athletic career being cut short, and then what he went through with the laminectomy and so forth, I can't tell you how uplifting it was for our family to see how he handled that."

"I think when you see it in the documentary, when he reflects on it, it gets to him a little bit and certainly that touched all of us. I thought that was a special part of the documentary."

From there, the documenary delves into the college decisions and careers of Peyton and Eli leading up to both being selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.

On his conference call, Archie said the success of his sons hit him all at once in 2006. 

"Maybe the first Manning Bowl in '06, you kind of ‑‑ a big pinch-yourself right there," he said. "That's the only time I remember us sitting down and looking at each other and talking and just saying, 'What in the world is going on here?' It's when Peyton won his Super Bowl MVP and the next year the Giants and Eli won one. That's when it hit us like, what in the world; this wasn't a plan, and what's going on here? Just kind of really pinch yourself."

The film, narrated by John Goodman and presented by Chick-Fil-A, airs tonight on ESPN at 6 p.m. MDT. It will re-air on ESPNU at 8 p.m. MDT.

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