METAIRIE - Considering the tremendous success they’ve had in the NFL, which will likely continue for several years to come, some people believe brothers Peyton and Eli Manning were born to play pro football.
But it’s not that easy, and it doesn’t always work out that way.
As the sons of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, Peyton and Eli came into the NFL with much fanfare as the top player picked in the 1998 and 2004 drafts, respectively.
Even though they share DNA with their famous father, the second overall pick of the 1971 draft, that’s where it ends as far as athletic ability goes.
The personalized instruction, backyard clinics, dinner-table chalk talks and Saturday visits to the locker room may have been just as important - if not more - than their bloodlines to get them ready for the NFL.
Knowing that, the Saints hope those same things, that early indoctrination to the pro game, rubbed off on their two first-round draft picks this spring - defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram.
Jordan, who played his college ball at Cal, is the son of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who had 498 receptions while starting 149 of 176 games over 13 seasons.
Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Alabama, is the son of New York Giants 1987 first-round draft pick Mark Ingram Sr., who played 10 seasons and appeared in 128 games with four teams.
Like the Manning brothers, Jordan and Ingram spent time with their dads in the locker room on the day before games. Most NFL coaches allow players to bring their sons to work, letting them romp around before and after the team’s light walkthrough practice.
“I remember going to the locker room with my dad,” said a smiling Ingram, the 28th selection in this year’s draft. “I remember being in there, hanging out with Dan Marino’s kids and things like that. I was always around football.”
Jordan was only 5 years old when his father retired from the game, but he also recalled those Saturday morning visits to the Metrodome locker room.
“Yeah, I remember running around the dome with grown men and jumping on them,” he said laughing. “I remember being there in the locker room and different scenarios like that. Not too many people get to do that, so maybe I took it for granted at the time.”
NFL scouts, who leave no stone unturned these days, value those kinds of experiences to a certain extent - especially if the dad had a successful pro career. But what happens later in their formative years is what can really mold the player.
“You’re aware of (bloodlines), but that’s it,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “You’re aware, but more than anything you’re watching the tape and their workouts, and you’re trying to evaluate them not based on (their dads).
“At the same time, each case is different,” he said. “Both of these guys have had successful (college) careers and were drafted on their own merit. You know they’ve grown up with it. It’s just like a coach’s kid; you know they’ve grown up with football.”
Former Saints coach Jim Mora agreed.
When Mora took over as coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, the club had the first pick in the draft - which turned out to be Peyton Manning.
He’d seen Peyton grow up at the Saints’ old practice facility when Archie Manning, who used to be the team’s radio color analyst, would drop by the day before games.
“If he’s a good player, that’s what it boils down to,” Mora said when asked if he noticed anything different about ex-player’s sons. “There are probably some good genes involved. But if he’s a coach’s kid or a player’s kid, something probably rubbed off on him that will help a little bit.”
Oddly enough, Ingram’s dad didn’t push football on him when he was a youngster. Mark Ingram Sr. wanted his son to play golf, which Mark Jr. did for a while.
He said he won the Midwest Junior Golf Championship two years in a row before turning his attention to football upon entering high school in Grand Blanc, Mich.
After he started with the varsity as a freshman, Mark Jr. said his dad quickly changed his mind about wanting him to play golf.
“My dad always said I was special, but I still needed to focus and work hard,” he said. “He taught me everything: how to throw, catch, run, tackle. He taught me everything about football, and he’s still teaching me to this day. He’s always been like a coach to me.”
For Cameron Jordan, there was never any question that he and his younger brother were going to play football.
“When we were about 13, we got thrown into it for sure,” Jordan said. “My dad would always be teaching me about everything. If I let him, he’d sit me down for three hours and talk just about football.
“But my mom would shut that down,” a grinning Jordan said, “so he never got the chance.”
When he received a scholarship to play his college ball at Cal, Jordan said his dad gave him some football pointers he felt he already knew.
“It was like, ?Dad, don’t worry, I’ve got it under control,’” he said. “Then, when I got ready for my second year, it was, ?Dad, tell me a little bit more ? I might listen to you now.’
“You just realize you have so much information there, you have to utilize everything that you can. So that helped me a lot.”
And it probably won’t hurt now that he’s in the NFL.