I attended the University of New Orleans on a basketball scholarship and on my first Sunday there attended The First Baptist Church of New Orleans. Archie Manning was the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints at the time and he and his family (Olivia his wife; and Cooper his son) also attended the church. I became a member of the church and was active in the college group. A few months later I met Archie. Olivia had just had a second son they named Peyton. This was like the first Sunday the Mannings brought Peyton to church with them. I chatted with Archie after the service and he said, “Dave, why don’t you go ahead and hold Peyton.” So I held Peyton Manning! He was just a few months old at the time. I was 18 years old. Little did I realize who Peyton would become. As an 18 year old I hadn’t held very many babies before that. Good thing I didn’t drop the little guy! The Mannings were just a down to earth family and Archie was a cool dad and about the only good player the Saints (nicknamed “The Aints”) had on their team.
Something a lot of people don’t realize is that Peyton has two brothers. Everybody knows about his younger brother Eli who plays for the Giants. But Peyton also has an older brother named Cooper who also was an incredible quarterback and was Peyton’s hero along with his dad. Cooper played football at Newman School, a private high school in New Orleans that all three Manning brothers attended. Cooper got a scholarship to the University of Mississippi which is where Archie played college ball. But before he ever played there, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine and pinching of the nerves, which ended his football career.
In the book, Manning, written by Peyton and Archie Manning, Peyton says:
“Like my dad, I make it a point when I speak to groups to talk about priorities, and when it’s school kids, I rank those priorities as: faith, family, and education, then football. For me generally it had always been the big four: faith, family, friends, and football. And I tell all of them that as important as football is to me, it can never be higher than fourth. My faith has been number one since I was thirteen years old and heard from the pulpit on a Sunday morning in New Orleans a simple question: ‘If you died today, are you one hundred percent sure you’d go to heaven?’ Cooper was there and Eli [Peyton’s two brothers] but it didn’t hit them at the time the way it did me. It was a big church, and I felt very small, but my heart was pounding. The minister invited those who would like that assurance through Jesus Christ to raise their hands, and I did. Then he invited us to come forward, to take a stand, and my heart really started pounding. And from where we sat, it looked like a mile to the front.
But I got up and did it. And I committed my life to Christ, and that faith has been most important to me ever since. Some players get more vocal about it—the Reggie Whites, for example—and some point to Heaven after scoring a touchdown and praise God after games. I have no problem with that. But I don’t do it, and don’t think it makes me any less a Christian. I just want my actions to speak louder, and I don’t want to be more of a target for criticism than I already am.”
Peyton went forward at The First Baptist Church of New Orleans when he was 13 years old and was baptized by Pastor Roger Freeman. Eli followed and Freeman baptized him as well.
L-R: Olivia, Eli, Archie, Cooper and Peyton
The Mannings at their home in New Orleans
This is a exceptional family that God has blessed greatly!