Archie Manning leaned back in his chair and muttered: "I hate football."
At just about any other moment, he feels anything but that. Manning and his wife often marvel at the good fortune achieved by their quarterback-playing sons.
On this particular Sunday evening, though, their father was just one more football fan bemoaning how cruel this sport can be — not to mention the absurdity of the league's rules on what constitutes a catch. Twice he had celebrated what appeared to be yet another stirring comeback by Eli against the undefeated Patriots, only to stare dumbfounded at the words "incomplete pass."
"Unbelievable," Archie kept saying. "Unbelievable."
The elder Manning spent Sunday along with three other NFL dads at the Manhattan television studio where DirecTV shoots its Fantasy Zone channel coverage. For the late afternoon games, there were Peyton's Broncos hosting the Chiefs on one set of screens and Eli's Giants facing New England on a panel to the left.
Peyton came in 3 yards shy of breaking Brett Favre's NFL record for career passing yards. Archie settled onto the set alongside the hosts so he could chat about the feat once it happened. On the third snap, Peyton dropped back to pass — and threw an interception.
Archie rested his chin on his hand. But he was bumping fists with the hosts soon thereafter when Odell Beckham Jr. caught an 87-yard touchdown from Eli.
Peyton finally broke the record on Denver's next possession, but that would be just about all there was to smile about in that game. He was benched in the third quarter after his fourth interception, still stuck one victory short of breaking the record of Favre's he values most.
Archie was philosophical about Peyton's day, knowing his son was so banged up, maybe he shouldn't have played. With the Broncos trailing 19-0 at halftime, Archie chatted with Doug Smith, the father of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
Meanwhile, the Patriots-Giants matchup was starting to look more and more like their two Super Bowls — and Archie was starting to pace. Even while watching his sons' games in person from a luxury box, he'll often go for a walk, seeking out a lucky spot. There was a particular tunnel a long stroll from his seat at the old Giants Stadium that seemed especially effective. Archie spent so much time there, he got friendly with the usher who manned that location.
"It bailed me out one day," Archie recalled. "Eli was just having some — gosh, they was booing him and everything. All of a sudden I walked in this little tunnel, and he had a touchdown."
At home, he'll roam from room to room. He is one spokesman who clearly uses the product he endorses when it comes to DirecTV's Sunday Ticket. Still, the Mannings have cable in the kitchen just in case the weather knocks out the satellite service, and that broadcast is about 10 seconds ahead. Archie will scream at a big play, and his wife, Olivia, will holler that he needs to pipe down because she hasn't seen what happened yet.
The first time Peyton and Eli played against each other in 2006, the Mannings knew the cameras would be on them in the stands and tried to stay stoic. Afterward, all they heard was how miserable they looked on TV. Archie insists they weren't in fact glum, and they vowed before Peyton's Colts played in the Super Bowl at the end of that season to look more upbeat. It didn't last long — when Chicago's Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, Olivia turned to her husband and said, "I'm miserable."
Indianapolis went on to win the title that day, and Eli would later twice beat the Patriots for his two championships.
In Sunday's rematch, when a Giants defender missed a tackle on Rob Gronkowski's 76-yard touchdown catch to give the Patriots the lead early in the fourth quarter, Archie murmured, "You've got to be kidding me."
But when New York intercepted Tom Brady at the goal line, Eli had another chance at a winning drive. He may be a former NFL quarterback himself, but Archie figures he's not much different these days than the other dads he watched the games with Sunday: Smith, Larry Foles (father of the Rams' Nick Foles), and Mike Ryan (father of the Falcons' Matt Ryan). Now that he no longer works as an announcer, he's considers himself not very well-versed in the X's and O's of the current NFL.
He exhaled loudly as the Giants converted one third down, then another, then another. When Beckham appeared to make a catch in the end zone, Archie was already pointing out New York should go for two to potentially take a seven-point lead with just over two minutes left and the Patriots down to one timeout.
But then the NFL's much-disparaged rule on what constitutes a catch swung another game.
"That's a football move," Archie insisted as the play was reviewed.
But the pass was ruled incomplete, and the Giants settled for a field goal and a two-point lead. On New England's next snap, safety Landon Collins appeared to make a victory-clinching interception.
"We beat the Patriots," Archie marveled for the brief moment before it became clear from the players' reaction that Collins didn't hold on.
When Stephen Gostkowski later lined up for a 54-yard field goal, Archie knew he wasn't going to miss.
He and his sons have seen plenty of games like this.
"I feel for them when it doesn't go good, but they handle it and I handle it," Archie had said a few hours earlier, "and, hey, it's a football game."