How the Manning family is helping Bengals' Joe Burrow transition to NFL

CINCINNATI -- Archie Manning loves sending text messages.

Every week, the 71-year-old former NFL quarterback scrolls through his iPhone and shoots quick messages to young QBs scattered throughout college and the NFL. Sometimes it's a brief note before a big game. Often, it's a few words of encouragement after a rough outing.

Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow received one of those a couple of days ago after he struggled in a 27-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was a reminder from Archie that his son, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning, had a similar performance during his rookie season in 2004.

The Manning family, which of course also includes future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, knows both ends of the football spectrum -- from character-building rookie seasons to leading a team to a Super Bowl. As the Bengals prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton's former team, on Sunday, Burrow's relationship with the Mannings has been invaluable as he tries to find his way in the NFL.

"Archie texts me every week and that means a lot to not only me but my family as well," Burrow said on Wednesday during his weekly news conference.

The relationship between the Mannings and the Burrows started before Burrow's Heisman Trophy-winning 2019 season at LSU. Every year, the Manning Passing Academy has college quarterbacks ranging from top draft prospects to friends of the family to serve as counselors for a camp that features 1,200 kids.

Archie Manning and Burrow met at a 7-on-7 tournament at LSU in June 2019 that featured Archie's grandson, Arch, one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 recruiting class. Burrow hopped on Archie's golf cart and the two chatted.

Manning invited Joe and his parents, Jimmy and Robin, to come to the 2019 summer camp. Like Archie, Jimmy is from Mississippi and also attended the University of Mississippi briefly before he transferred to Nebraska. The relationship between the families extended after the summer. Before the 2019 LSU game against the Rebels, the Burrows went to the Mannings' home in Oxford, Mississippi.

"They're just great people," Jimmy Burrow said. "When they took a special interest in Joe, then we just kind of became a part of that."

Archie knew that for Burrow, coming to the camp in Louisiana wasn't just about helping out. It was about gleaning as much knowledge as he could from Peyton and Eli, who combined for 33 NFL seasons, 502 regular-season games and four Super Bowl wins.

Burrow also had a chance to throw against other top college players. He shrugged it off earlier this week, but that opportunity wasn't lost on him.

"After it was over, he told his daddy, 'I was the best quarterback there,'" Archie Manning said. "That's one of the reasons he went on [to] the type of year he had (at LSU).

"He's not braggadocios. But he's confident. He knows he can play and he wants to be a great player."

But for Burrow, it wasn't just about excelling in college, like leading LSU to a national championship in 2019. It was about being a good pro. It was about handling everything about being the first overall pick and immediately being the starter, which Peyton experienced when the Colts drafted him No. 1 in 1998.

During Peyton's rookie season, he and Archie usually talked on Mondays. In one of those conversations, Peyton started the call by saying, "Dad, nobody is open." Archie knew exactly what his son was talking about.

"The game, when you go from college ball to pro ball, they're open," Archie said. "But they're just open a split-second sometimes."

Before the Bengals drafted Burrow in April, he called Peyton to talk about some of the things Peyton tried to do during his rookie year in 1998. Manning knew how difficult the transition is from college to the pros. The Colts were 3-13 that season and Manning threw 28 interceptions, which is the still the NFL record for a rookie.

"I tried to tell him it's a marathon, it's not a sprint," Peyton said on ESPN's "SportsCenter" in April. "Look -- I lost more games my rookie year than I had in my entire high school and college years career combined."

On the other end of the phone call, Burrow scribbled down a couple of pages of notes from the conversation. He said he references that conversation every now and then as he tries to navigate through his rookie year. Burrow said he also texts Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner every week.

"Those guys want to help and you'd be dumb not to take advantage of those opportunities," Burrow said.

Despite the obstacles presented by COVID-19, Burrow spent the entire offseason preparing to be the starter. Some of that included watching old tape of Peyton at the line of scrimmage going through his pre-snap cadence.

Even though the Bengals have one win through five games, Burrow has shown glimpses of being the franchise quarterback. He became the first rookie to throw for 300 or more yards in three straight games.

But in last Sunday's loss to the Ravens, he experienced the lumps Peyton told him about. Burrow's QBR of 5.7 was the third-lowest of any game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. However, the rocky outing wasn't enough to shake him.

"He's still got the same mindset that he's always had," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "A belief in this team, a belief in himself. I don't think we'll ever lose that edge with him."

When Archie Manning looks at Burrow, he sees a guy who can play the position well and handle the pressure of being the franchise quarterback.

"I think he'll be a great NFL quarterback," Archie said. "Cincinnati is lucky to have somebody like him to build around."