EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Peyton Manning was a high school quarterback just beginning to refine his prodigious skills when he attended a summer football camp in Birmingham run by the Bowden family. Terry Bowden, then the coach at Samford University, was technically in charge of the camp, but family patriarch Bobby (the legendary Florida State coach), and brothers Tommy (now the coach at Clemson) and Jeff (the former FSU offensive coordinator) were also there.
At the camp, Manning picked up pointers about dropbacks, foot position, throwing motion and moving in the pocket.
“That was one of the better camps that I went to,” Peyton said. “They were serious about trying to give the kids a lot of work. But it was also a chance for Bobby Bowden to get together with his sons. They were all over the camp.”
In addition to instruction, the camp gave Manning, as well as his father, Archie, who accompanied him, an idea: the Mannings should hold their own camp.
After all, Archie and his sons – Cooper, Peyton and Eli – are also one of football’s premier families. They know and love the sport and wanted to pass their knowledge on to others.
Thus was born the Manning Passing Academy’s annual summer camp for quarterbacks and receivers. Approximately 900 youngsters attended the 11th edition of the camp last July at Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, La.
“Well, I guess I kind of copied the Bowdens,” Archie said. “When Peyton went to the Bowden camp, (Bobby) was recruiting Peyton at the time for Florida State. He told me he loved the camp and never missed it because it was a chance to be with his boys.”
QB Eli Manning teaches the fundamentals
The Manning camp is special because of the family’s commitment. They don’t simply attach their name to the camp, hire someone to run it and then divvy up the proceeds. Archie and all three sons are at every session. Dad is constantly moving, whether it’s to check in on a drill, chat up some campers’ parents or solve a logistical problem. Cooper, Peyton and Eli are on the field instructing the campers every minute of every session. That’s not all. The four Mannings share a suite in the same dorm used by many of the campers.
“That’s where our credibility comes from and why we’ve had our success through the years,” Archie Manning said. “We’ve all been involved with camps where the star of the camp or the head coach shows up and takes pictures the first day and you never see him again. Of course, Eli was a camper for the first three years, but I’m proud to say in the 11 years we’ve had this, Eli, Peyton and Cooper have never missed one minute of the camp. They’ve never left to fill a commitment. They may have to one day, it’ll be something personal, but they’ve been there every single minute. Also, they do their best to get around and touch every kid, work with them and say hello. I have a lot of friends who send their grandkids and I tell Peyton and Eli and I want every one of their kids to go home and tell their granddad that they touched them.”
Which is exactly what Peyton and Eli want. Peyton is the Super Bowl-winning quarterback and two-time NFL Most Valuable Player with the Indianapolis Colts and Eli is the Giants’ starting quarterback. Despite their lofty stature, they are in the trenches with the kids, instructing, correcting and encouraging. If a drill is designed to teach rollouts after play-action fakes, Peyton and Eli will often stop the proceedings, demonstrate the proper technique, and watch everyone in the group to make sure they do it precisely as they were taught.
“I went to a lot of camps where it took half the day to do the camp picture and then you have time to go swimming,” Peyton said. “Hey, this is football camp, we are here to talk about football, how to be a better quarterback, how to be a better receiver, running back and tight end. We don’t do a camp picture. We don’t tell them to bring their swimsuit or their tennis racket. We’re here to coach them and teach them football, but at the same time to hug them up, to high-five them and to be sure they have a lot of fun. Our goal is to teach them the drills and the fundamentals so that when they go back to schools and work on these things, they can become better players. And most of them do.”
“I went to a Penn State camp and I never saw Joe Paterno,” Eli said. “That's kind of the whole point. We're going to do this camp and we're going to be there every day and we're going to try to see every kid. I think between Peyton and I we do that. We try to get on the field and try to someway interact with them, maybe give them one little tip. You say, 'Hey, that was a good throw, try to keep your eyes down field,' or whatever. You try to see every kid and talk to them.”
While Peyton and Eli are famous professional athletes and Archie has been a Southern football icon for decades, it is oldest brother Cooper who is the most memorable Manning for many campers. Cooper is two years older than Peyton and seven years older than Eli. As a senior at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, Cooper caught 76 passes, all of them thrown by Peyton, then the sophomore quarterback. A top wide receiver prospect, Cooper followed Archie’s footsteps to the University of Mississippi (where Eli later played). But Cooper was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, and never played a down for Ole Miss. Cooper eventually endured three surgeries and is today much thinner than his NFL-playing brothers.
Now married with three children (Archie and Olivia’s only grandchildren), Cooper is a successful institutional stock broker in New Orleans. Friendly and funny, his barbs, quips and jokes are as much a part of the Manning camp as airborne footballs and sweat-soaked T shirts. One of the highlights of camp is the evening session chaired by Cooper where the campers are encouraged to ask any question they may wish. That, in turn, gives Cooper a chance to respond with any witty, sarcastic, biting response that he chooses.