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ARCH MANNING’S END GAME: MANAGING THE BURDEN OF HIS NAME
So far, Peyton and Eli’s nephew has been remarkably grounded in announcing he’ll play at Texas, but pressure to thrive as the Next Gen Manning is an unfair challenge he’ll face the rest of his career
For now, consider it a modern parental miracle. Beneath a wavy mop of golden-brown hair, Arch Manning’s head remains screwed on tight, like one of his lofted spirals. This would seem a 21st-century impossibility after the most scrutinized prep sports recruitment ever, which easily could have slid into media-fed bedlam, social and otherwise.
As the progeny of football’s royal family — his uncles are Peyton and Eli, his grandfather is Archie — Arch’s visits to college campuses symbolized the ongoing evolution of a name that celebrates the American South and its folklore. He not only is a five-star quarterback out of Isidore Newman School, in uptown New Orleans, the elite private institution that produced Peyton and Eli in the ‘90s. He’s also the fresh Manning prince, with all the tools and DNA and wisdom to inherit the kingdom created by his elders.
The pressure of carrying such a gargantuan burden is so palpable, of course, that my fingers all but shake as I type the words. Arch just turned 17. How did he not wilt, crack and flee the millions of prying eyeballs that peered for several years? Elon Musk’s daughter turned 18 and immediately sought to legally change her name, citing a dislike for her famous/infamous father and tech disruptor. “I no longer … wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form,” said the newly christened Vivian Wilson, who also is changing her gender.
All you need to know about Arch, by comparison, is that his very first tweet was the one he posted last week: “Committed to the University of Texas. #HookEm,” he wrote, attaching a photo of him dropping back to pass and wearing a t-shirt adorned with a burnt-orange Longhorn logo. It ended a long-running story that never became a drama, thanks to parents — and uncles — who taught him that a Manning doesn’t need to cook the hype. Or waste time on social media, either. In that vein, Arch’s father and the oldest Manning brother, Cooper, provided a service as impressive in its own right as the legacies of his brothers. Much has been made, sadly, of how Cooper was the one who didn’t thrive in the NFL, his own career as a receiver derailed by a spinal stenosis diagnosis in college. He poured his attention into Arch, making sure he could breathe as a teenager while progressing as a high-school passer who’ll be expected to follow gloriously in the massive Super Bowl and MVP footsteps of his uncles.
The announcement was perfectly executed, brief and subdued. There was no news conference, which Peyton and Eli easily could have arranged on ESPN, given their favored status as stars of the “ManningCast” on NFL Monday nights. There was no gathering of family members and friends. There was no hat reveal, in which a snazzy-suited recruit teases and finally announces his choice from an assortment of finalists’ caps on a table. No, Arch simply pushed “send” once and returned to his tireless football studies, a few days after he returned from his final official visit — to Texas — and called Uncle Peyton with a question: How long did he wait to say he was signing with Tennessee? The advice came quickly.
“As soon as I got back from my last visit, I basically announced where I was going two days later. Because I knew,” said Peyton, speaking over the weekend at the Manning Passing Academy camp in Louisiana. “When you know, you know. There’s no point in dragging it out and creating some drama. I’m not a big fan of the hat reveal, you know, the whole deal. I know that’s part of the show now. I kind of liked how he did it. Once he knew, he sent the word out. Now it’s on to just being a senior in high school.”
The entirety of which suggests Arch should have a smooth transition to college football and, eventually, the NFL. The support system won’t let him swerve off path, right? First the Heisman Trophy and a national title, then multiple Super Bowls, right? The Pro and College Football Halls of Fame? His own ManningCast?
Whoa there, as his uncles will concur. For all the good work his family has done in normalizing his big-spotlight experience thus far, the glare only becomes blinding and the expectations suffocating when Arch arrives in Austin next year. The weight of being the Next Gen Manning intensifies as he operates in the great wide open of the collegiate circus. Suddenly, his performances are watched and dissected by the masses, including media people who realize the Arch vs. Peyton/Eli comparisons are ratings gold.
Unfairly, he’ll always have to live with the juxtaposition. His family will be answering questions about him for years to come. So it’s up to Arch to determine whether the Manning name is a blessing or a curse. His first decision — signing with Texas, a chronic underachiever where a stinking-rich booster base has absurdly high demands — will be a litmus test for the rest of his career. He fell in love with the Hook ’Em vibe in a cool college town. But, above all, he meshed with coach Steve Sarkisian, who wisely prioritized Arch’s recruitment as the coup to change perceptions of the program and maybe save his own checkered career. They clicked because Sarkisian is a quarterback whisperer from way back, with recent work under Nick Saban at Alabama — Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones — leading to his first head-coaching gig since an alcohol problem buried him at USC.
The kid’s journey would have been easier at, say, Alabama, where Saban and his QB strategist du jour continue to produce NFL starters, with reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young up next in the upper reaches of mock drafts. The usual linemen, receivers and running backs — all would have been in place for Manning for his freshman season in 2023. But he rejected Saban, along with Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, a trio that has won six of the last seven national championships. Perhaps turned off by the phony Bayou accent of new coach Brian Kelly, a Notre Dame guy via Cincinnati and Central Michigan, Manning also blew off LSU, the other national champ in that span.
The cynic in me — I prefer realist — thinks Manning was promised a bed of riches. Wouldn’t the bloated donor pool at Texas, after suffering so many fired coaches and disappointing seasons, pant and drool at the thought of loading up Arch Manning with NIL fortunes? Think of the possibilities in Austin, a booming metropolis in its own right, and throughout the state. Didn’t the Hook ’Em crowd notice when Jimbo Fisher used the Names, Images and Likenesses card to buy the nation’s top recruiting class at Texas A&M? It isn’t hard to imagine Manning emerging as the biggest beneficiary of the early NIL era, not that his family needs the money.
In Austin, Arch avoids the Southeastern Conference wars for a year or two, until the Longhorns join Oklahoma in the Big 12 shuttle to the SEC. Gosh, will the SEC Network have to stop airing “The Book Of Manning” documentary? He could have appeased Uncle Eli and Grandpa Archie by going to Ole Miss, their alma mater, but Lane Kiffin might be a little too crazy for a gym rat obsessed with the art of quarterbacking.
“He just wants to play football. He wants to be a great teammate,” Eli told the NFL Network. “I’m real excited for him going to Texas. It’s a great university, great history of football. Peyton and I are excited to go to Austin in a few falls and watch him play.”
Let’s not forget Grandpa Archie. “We’re blessed,” he said of his family. “Arch and his brother and sister — Cooper and Ellen (their parents) have done a great job with them. They are fun grandchildren to have.”
On Saturday, four days after his announcement, only the solitary tweet remained on Arch Manning’s Twitter account. But the photo was liked by 221,100 users and retweeted by 38,100. One famous commenter, a former Longhorn basketball player named Kevin Durant, wrote: “Let’s get it Arch.” Which begs the operative question: Will a gene-charmed teen in a football-starved environment, in a state where everything is bigger, still be able to resist social media and all its mentions and notifications and lie-spreaders starting next spring?
With the eyes of Texas upon him, all the live-long day?
The answer could reveal if Arch Manning truly is the Next Gen Manning, or just the nephew who gave it the old college try. Knowing the grace and prominence of the family, I’m expecting new NFL commissioner Barack Obama will welcome him to the league as a high pick in April 2026. After which, the Denver Broncos will announce a trade for Arch, as orchestrated in the team’s C-suite by Uncle Peyton, the type of deal once forced by Uncle Eli.
That’s not too much pressure, I hope.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.