Archie Manning, former redheaded quarterback himself, has been following the Bengals QB ever since Andy Dalton served as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy two years ago.
"We were all crazy about Andy," The Patri-Arch says the other day from New Orleans.
But when Dalton becomes just the second quarterback ever to host Archie's sons in back-to-back games the next two Sundays and the first since Tennesse's Vince Young swept Peyton and Eli Manning six years ago, blood becomes thicker than hair.
"I used to have red hair," says the 63-year-old Manning. "There haven't been too many of us (redheaded quarterbacks). That's what my grandkids call me. Red."
Sunday is a red alert game in Dalton's career at Paul Brown Stadium in a 1 p.m. game he faces Peyton Manning's Broncos. It's his first game since he turned 25 during the bye week, his 24th NFL start, and his first matchup against the greatest quarterback of his youth, not to mention a desperate scrum for his 3-4 Bengals against one of the AFC's four teams at 4-3 as he tries to stop his first three-game losing streak.
And not only that, Peyton is the Peyton of old. And while even Archie sounds like he's not too sure when Peyton talks about not being 100 percent quite yet, he always makes sure to watch Dalton when he can catch the Bengals.
"I've watched him closely since his senior year at TCU," Archie Manning says. "I'm really proud of what he's accomplished. I think he's playing great. You could tell he was a solid player. I've been really impressed with Andy. He kind of had a special gleam in his eye."
Manning won't be here to see it the next two weekends. He and wife Olivia, the Ole Miss Homecoming Queen he married shortly after the Saints made him the second pick in the 1971 draft, have eased into a routine now that they've had two starting NFL quarterbacks for nine years.
(No matter what these two guys do, 40 years ago Olivia and Archie already lived out the football-star-beauty-queen script of some classic southern novel, so what else could have been next?)
"We've been doing this for a long time," Archie Manning says. "We go to about three or four home games a year. The one thing we don't ever do is go to an away game anymore. The only away games we go to are playoff games. Away games, when you think about it for parents, you're going to see your child for 15 minutes. And it's kind of a hostile environment when you've got a son playing quarterback for the other team."
The schedule-maker had the patri-Arch in mind back in April. By Archie's account, Peyton and Eli play at the same time only twice this season and the first time is next week when Eli brings his Super Bowl champion Giants to PBS at 1 p.m., the same time the Broncos play at Carolina and Peyton has another duel with one of the whippersnappers from the class of '11 when he meets Cam Newton.
But for Elisha Archie Manning III, these are just his two kids and not the 21st century gold standard for pro quarterbacks. He has sat in a suite and watched Eli win two of the closest Super Bowls in history and yet Archie is still getting over the Giants' crazy, mere regular-season win in Dallas last Sunday that wasn't secured until the last seconds when Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant's touchdown was overruled by replay.
"There has never been a more nerve-wracking game than that Cowboys-Giants game, if you think about it from a parent's standpoint," Archie said. "They got up 23 points and you're thinking, 'This is too easy. It's not going to be a blowout.' Then it's 'Oh my God.' I don't know if you saw the end of the game, but it was three inches. And I don't know how you can have three plays in the last 10 seconds."
So next week Archie will have the split screen going at his New Orleans home. This week, he's leaving for a speaking engagement in Florida in time so he can see both games before the speech.
"He's most proud as a dad," says Dave Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst.
Lapham and Manning go way back. Both played for their teams for a decade bridging the '70s and '80s before they went into the radio booth and Lapham covered Peyton planning at Tennessee when he worked SEC games in the mid-90s. He played against Manning I, more athletic than his sons, a running threat that personnified extending the play for a beleagured franchise.
Lapham scored a coup at halftime of Peyton's first college start when he got Archie in the booth for an interview.
"I told him he should be proud because not only was his son a great player, but he was such a great person," Lapham says. "He teared up. We went to commercial and he told me, 'You got me there. Olivia's going to like that.' "
And then Lapham got a voice mail from his own mother up in Massachusetts because mothers are always watching: "The best part of that was when Archie got emotional."
Peyton is still as amazing as his father as Archie digests just how Peyton made the Saints look like his Aints of the '70s with his seamless 305 yards on Sunday night.
"He says he would still like to be able to turn it up a notch. His (neck) nerve's not 100 percent. He's still working on that," Archie says. "It's been a transition for him. Obviously 14 years in one place and then to go to a new team, new city, new everything … ."
Archie points to the recent New Orleans Times-Picayune story penned by NFL scribe Jeff Duncan and he's still moved at how Peyton "dressed out in full pads" that day at Duke back in the spring with a couple of NFL players and how they relived every play from the Colts-Jets AFC title game in '09 to make sure he had some juice left.
"Imagine that," Archie says. "I'm proud of him. He's worked so hard to get back."
Manning has one of these gigabyte memories. He can not only remember paragraphs, but placards as his mind goes back to another last-gasp Manning win. In Cincinnati. At Riverfront Stadium. A little more than 34 years ago.
"It was hot and we won it at the end; it was in September," Manning says of the 20-18 victory on Sept. 24, 1978. "Conrad Dobler was on our team, but he got hurt the week before and we had a big kid from Purdue who was from Cincinnati playing guard. Dave Lafary. L-A-F-A-R-Y. His folks had a grocery store in Cincinnati and I remember looking up in the stadium and seeing big signs for this guy starting his first game."
LaSalle High School's Lafary helped send the Bengals to 0-4, a team without injured quarterback Ken Anderson, another Manning friend and a guy he says should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Kenny and I are the same age. We came out the same year. The fall of 1970, they called it the Year of the Quarterback in college football. There were a lot of good ones that had long careers in the NFL," Manning says.
He can recite the top three picks. "Jim (Plunkett) went to New England No. 1. New Orleans took me No. 2. Dan Pastorini went to Houston third. I don't know what round Kenny came out of Augustana (third) … he was always a heck of player.
"Kenny, of course, played under Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. I think he got great training. He was a very accurate and cerebral quarterback. I think Kenny ought to be in the Hall of Fame. I really believe that. … I just don't think the voters are taking a good, close look. He had no weakness."
Lapham says Archie passed on that F-stop memory to Peyton and probably Eli, making them lethal in the art of storing info against defenses. Lapham remembers Archie telling him that Peyton remembers "the first time I whipped him and why I whipped him."
Once a Colts coach told Lapham he saw Peyton in training camp call out a fifth-string offensive lineman for jumping offside. "That's the third time today," Peyton barked, and when the coaches checked the film he was exactly right.
Although Archie headlines that summer camp for high school players ("One of the things I'm proudest of is Eli and Peyton haven't missed a minute of that camp in 17 years"), he says he didn't actually coach them.
"I never was their quarterback coach," Archie says. "What I try to tell young quarterbacks is try to know what you're going to do with the ball and get rid of it. Figure it out quick what you're going to do with the ball and get rid of it. That's my theory."
That's what he'll be saying to himself the next two Sundays. Two Sundays he doesn't take for granted.
"In this league?" he asks, getting ready to agonize again.