NEW YORK — The patriarchs of the NFL’s first families of quarterbacks and coaches are anything but interfering dads. In fact, Archie Manning and Jack Harbaugh are just as influenced by their successful sons as their boys are by them.
That’s a special quality they cherish on Father’s Day and every day.
“They make us so proud the way they handle things,” Manning says of his Super Bowl-winning QB sons Peyton and Eli, and their older brother, Cooper, who was denied a chance at a pro career because of spinal and neck injuries when he was at Ole Miss. “They have good instincts, and it inspires us as parents to make the same good decisions they are (making).”
Adds Harbaugh, the father of Ravens coach John and 49ers coach Jim, and their sister, Joani, who is married to Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean: “I am most pleased at how they all get along. They look forward to being around and with each other, and they make sure all the cousins (Jack and Jackie Harbaugh have 10 grandchildren) know each other and get to spend time together.”
Archie and Olivia Manning, and Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, have been in the spotlight a lot in recent years, even as they try to stay out of it. With Peyton setting records and winning a Super Bowl and Eli twice grabbing the Lombardi Trophy, the Mannings are as well-known as any sporting family.
And with both John Harbaugh and younger brother Jim guiding their teams to the Super Bowl last winter — John’s Ravens edged Jim’s 49ers 34-31 — Jack and Jackie were regulars on the interview circuit in January.
The two dads were in New York this week as part of DirecTV’s football for Father’s Day campaign. Manning and Harbaugh have become so comfortable with each other that they even finished each other’s sentences at times.
While they certainly enjoy the success of their children, the elder Manning and Harbaugh also share in the pain and the disappointments. That’s the hard part, even though they try to watch every play of every game involving their sons.
“I’ve had Sunday Ticket on DirecTV ever since Peyton got into the league,” Manning says. “So I am able to watch all of Peyton’s and Eli’s games, but I suffer through them. A couple of times when I was caught on a flight, I want to know what’s the score, but when I land and find out I can sometimes be a little relieved that I didn’t go through the tension of watching it.”
Archie is a master of the split screen on TV so he can watch both of his sons at the same time if their kickoffs coincide. One time, he also brought a radio into the room to listen to the Saints game — he and Olivia live in New Orleans — but she quickly put an end to that.
“Three games were a little too much,” Manning says, with a chuckle.
Harbaugh also watches every one of John’s and Jim’s games, and he gets the coaches’ tapes on Tuesday mornings, then breaks them down. He was, after all, a career coach, and both sons worked for him at various times at Western Michigan or Western Kentucky.
But he doesn’t offer any football advice unless asked. Same for Manning.
“I grind for three hours with the tapes, take notes, so if they call and ask something, I am ready,” Harbaugh says, also with a laugh. “They don’t call often, but I have a tremendous amount of information if they do.”
Unquestionably the most difficult games occur when Peyton plays Eli — Peyton is 2-0 in those, and they face off on the second weekend this season at the Meadowlands — and when John and Jim go at it. Obviously, this year’s Super Bowl, while a dream matchup for the Harbaugh family (and the media), also brought lots of uncomfortable moments.
Indeed, neither Jack nor Jackie could get too demonstrative at the Superdome during the game because that might be perceived as rooting for one son or the other.
“You care so much about both of them and for both of them, and the thrill of victory or agony of defeat is so profound,” Jack Harbaugh says. “So you are trying to control your emotions.”
Archie relates a story about how Peyton had to do the same when he was with the Colts and they were playing the Giants. Peyton normally went to sackmaster Dwight Freeney and goaded him with: “Let’s rattle that quarterback a little.”
“He caught himself before he told Dwight that when they played the Giants,” Archie says.
As the youngest of the three brothers, Eli spent the most time at home without his siblings. Like Cooper, he followed Archie to Mississippi, while Peyton went to Tennessee.
It might seem a given that all three would wind up as football players, but Eli says otherwise.
“Obviously I feel our parents did a great job of raising us, supporting us, and not forcing us into sports or into doing anything,” he says. “They told us to find something you are passionate about and give it your all, and that has been great advice.”
It also meant Peyton and Eli went the same route as Archie — Cooper was a wide receiver, in part because when he was in high school, a young QB named Peyton came along. And both Harbaugh boys followed Jack into coaching, although Jim also was a highly successful college and pro player. As a quarterback, of course.
And all of them are competitive on and off the field, albeit in a far more friendly way when it doesn’t involve football.
Asked if he needs to beat Jim to making the phone call to Jack on Father’s Day, John Harbaugh says: “There’s always a race. Birthdays? There’s always a competition of who can get to the phone call first. Believe me, my dad does keep track.”
Both Jack Harbaugh and Archie Manning note how difficult it is to get the entire family together for any occasion. Jack and Jackie did get to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary as well as Thanksgiving in Baltimore in 2011, mainly because the 49ers were playing at the Ravens that night.
What seems to impress the patriarchs most is the interaction among their children and their children’s children — the Mannings have six grandkids, with Eli and Abby expecting a baby next week.
Archie recalls how Peyton reacted to older brother Cooper’s career ending early at Ole Miss.
“Peyton was distraught,” Archie says. “He said how life is not fair. I think that changed all of our lives, taught all of us to count your blessings.”
Jackie Harbaugh, echoing her husband’s comments, stresses how her three children and their families “respect what they all do in their lives.”
“It’s like John says, the best thing you can do in life is raise somebody up,” she says.
To which Jack adds: “The fact is we are always there for each other, on Father’s Day or any day. That loves is always there.”
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