NEW ORLEANS — On the 120th day of Texas’s football season Saturday, on a metal bench inside the Superdome, Arch Manning — son of Cooper, grandson of Archie, nephew of those dudes on the Manningcast — spoke.
Okay, okay, Manning has talked since enrolling at Texas last winter. He’s peppered Quinn Ewers, Texas’s starting quarterback, with questions while they’ve roomed together on the road. Manning even played against Texas Tech on Nov. 24, meaning he had to call plays, meaning he had to say … something, about some things. But the program’s media policy stipulates that freshmen don’t meet with reporters until they have spent a significant time on the field. Manning, then, has been sort of hidden in plain sight, spending the year as the country’s most famous and relatively anonymous backup.
Then came Sugar Bowl media day ahead of Monday’s semifinal between No. 3 Texas and No. 2 Washington. Every player was available because that’s how media days go. Manning, 18 for another few months, was not one of the 26 players listed on a map distributed beforehand. That’s because he didn’t have a station with his name on it, leaving him to chill on the sidelines with most of the rest of the team. But as soon as the Longhorns arrived, he was surrounded by 25 or so reporters, then stayed that way for the next 40 minutes.
“I don’t see y’all giving this attention to other backups,” he said, suggesting he might get bagged on by his teammates for this. “But I’m used to it by now.”
Manning has returned home to New Orleans, where the Superdome is about a 10-minute drive from Isidore Newman, where he once whipped up a years-long recruiting war among the nation’s top programs. And after quarterback Maalik Murphy transferred to Duke this month, Manning is Ewers’s backup, putting him one play away from appearing in Texas’s biggest game in more than a decade. There were real, practical football reasons to ask him questions Saturday. It wasn’t just spectacle for spectacle’s sake.
But on the other hand, there was the very 2023 ritual of dispelling what’s been said about him on social media. The relevant snippets from that exercise:
Is he looking to transfer? (A question perhaps related to a photo of him and Mississippi State Coach Jeff Lebby in Starkville, Miss.): “Obviously there’s all these rumors but I haven’t looked into transferring at all. I’m just focused on developing and helping this team in any way I can and hopefully one day playing for the University of Texas like I always wanted to.”
Are the online estimates of his name, image and likeness (NIL) earnings accurate? (A question perhaps related to murmurs he out-earns San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy and his $870,000 salary): “I’m not involved with my NIL. You’d have to ask my dad about that. I have no idea. I don’t think, however, I’m making much more than Brock Purdy. Someone sent me that the other day.”
And maybe most importantly, is he really 6 feet 4? (A question perhaps related to him being listed as 6-4 on Texas’s official roster): “I think so.”
At that, Manning cracked up. Throughout the interview, despite answering some questions two or three times, he laughed a lot. He seemed comfortable, like a teenager who grew up in football’s first family and is used to a glaring spotlight.
When asked about his major (communications), he grinned and told a reporter he might have to ask him for tips. Asked about wanting to play in the Superdome, especially since he never made it to the state finals there in high school, he suggested telling Longhorns Coach Steve Sarkisian that he could return a kick. Asked about Newman’s 10-2 season, he mentioned their talented quarterback, Eli Friend, and that the reporters should “go bother him some.”
Pressed for his nickname with teammates, Manning offered up “Archibald.” Why? Last January, he left his ID — the one identifying him as Archibald Manning — in an English lecture. A female student picked it up, swiped her way into the football facility and returned it to the football staff. Sarkisian then FaceTimed Manning, asking if he knew where his ID was. The whole thing went viral. At some point, he lost it again, though the original was in the pocket of his black sweatpants Saturday, safe and sound.
“Arch is obviously a really talented kid,” said Greg McElroy, the former Alabama quarterback who will call Monday’s game as an ESPN analyst. “If you just watch the Texas Tech game, I know the numbers aren’t going to blow you away. But I’ll be honest: As an analyst who has to watch a lot of football on a week-to-week basis, it’s not often I’m watching every single snap for a backup quarterback in a [50-point] blowout. But I want to watch those.
“My interest level was similar to y’alls. I’m curious just like you guys are. If you have the last name Manning on the back of your jersey, that comes with great expectations.”
Especially here, and especially in this building. Straight across from where he sat Saturday, way up in the rafters, was the beginning of the legacy he now carries: “Archie Manning | 1971-1982.” Two generations later, Arch has attempted only five passes as a college quarterback. There is a chance Ewers returns for another season, meaning he would have to keep waiting his turn or seek immediate snaps elsewhere.
But for now, he could brush all that aside, look up at his granddad’s name and feel his feet on the Superdome’s turf. Arch was home and still on his way.