Ex-Saint QB Archie Manning recalls his foggy day at Memorial Stadium

May 05, 1994|By Phil Jackman

SALISBURY, N.C. -- "Memorial Stadium in Baltimore? Oh yeah, I remember it well," said the man. Then he amended his statement: "Actually, I missed some of it [the game], but I saw it the next day on the film."

Here's the story the legend from Ole Miss and the New Orleans Saints, Archie Manning, related: "Only got to play there once, but I was looking forward to it and playing in all the places where the baseball teams played, too -- Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland.

[At every opportunity before the NFL draft, major-league baseball teams drafted Archie in hopes he would play their game.]

"Another thing, all us kids playing high school ball in the deep South, it seems, were Colts fans. Anyway, it was Bert Jones' rookie year, and he had an awful day. Mine didn't start out much better. Right at the beginning of the game, I got smashed down on the left side of my head, and I was out of it. I wobbled off, and the coach told the backup quarterback to get ready.

"But no sooner did the Colts get the ball when they fumbled on the first play. The other guy wasn't ready, so I went back out there. You know how all week teams work on a game plan over and over? Well, I stick my head in the huddle and call a play and all the offensive linemen look at me kind of funny.

"We had installed a new system, and the play I called was out of the old system from the previous year. Fortunately, one of the wide receivers realized what was going on, he remembered the old numbering system and, after running around back there for a while, I threw a touchdown pass to him.

"Like I said, I didn't know a thing about it until we got home and I saw it on film. So much for all that business that goes on during the week being so crucial."

If anything, Manning probably has gained stature in New Orleans since ending a storied (if battered) 14-year career with the Saints after a series of near-impossible feats as a schoolboy and collegian in Mississippi, where he has been named the state's greatest athlete ever.

His work with the Salvation Army, the Boy Scouts, the Baptist Hospital Foundation in New Orleans and the Archie Manning Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament -- all hands-on ventures -- led to his being named the winner of the Old Forester "Spirit of Good Sports" Award at the National Sportscaster and Sportswriters Association Convention.

It carried a $10,000 prize, which Archie designated to go to the Salvation Army, explaining, "I checked with the head man asking if there was any problem, seeing as how a distilling company was making the award. He said, 'A lot of people might say the money is tainted, but my position is it 'taint' enough.' "

In addition to selecting state winners and Chris Berman of ESPN as the national sportscaster of the year and Peter Gammons of ESPN and The Boston Globe as national sportswriter of the year, the NSSA inducted the late John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News, Pat Summerall of CBS/Fox and Edwin Pope of The Miami Herald into its Hall of Fame.

By reputation, Summerall, off his quarter-century of work doing NFL play-by-play, Masters golf and the U.S. (tennis) Open sitting next to John Madden, Ken Venturi and Tony Trabert, isn't known for his effusive ways. In his acceptance speech, however, he spun yarns that had the audience approaching convulsions.

One involved his football-playing days at the University of Arkansas where, "during your freshman year, you served as hamburger for the varsity during a Tuesday scrimmage. When the varsity lost the previous Saturday, it was always a long and trying experience for us.

"Among the guys getting a scholarship that year was a kid who had been an all-state guard, but was just too small for major college ball. He wanted and needed the scholarship, though, so he was out there. It was a cold and muddy day, and we were getting murdered.

"After about an hour of this, we were all exhausted and were back in the huddle gasping when a coach came back and gave us a play to run. Now this all-state guard had sort of a funny, high-pitched voice and he stood up and, through an ear hole, said, 'I don't know about the rest of you fellas, but I think it's about time I found another sport.'

"He did, too, Miller Barber having one heck of a career on the PGA and Senior tours, and he's still competing on the Super Seniors Tour."

P.S. -- While it's true Bert Jones didn't have much of a day against New Orleans in that long-ago game Archie Manning made reference to, the 4-10 Colts did get by the 5-9 Saints, 14-10.

"I told you after getting hit in the head early I didn't remember all the details," Manning quipped.

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