The Mannings were billed as hanging out at a bar with Peyton and Eli to watch a game on “Monday Night Football.”
You’d run out of the joint yelling, “Omaha! Omaha!” if someone came on as strong as Peyton when you first met them for a drink.
Peyton started talking at a million miles per hour, as if he was being paid by the word, which could still be a fraction of the millions ESPN is paying him to do these jazzed-up Zooms with his brother for ten “MNF” games.
It was difficult at first. It improved as the show progressed, with Peyton and Eli focusing more on the intricacies of the game rather than the Mannings’ nostalgia show. We’d like to hear about their football prowess. ESPN had noticed it as well.
By halftime, Lee Fitting, ESPN’s senior VP of production, had advised the Mannings to concentrate more on football. We were told Peyton was receptive. This was the correct decision.
Even so, it’s the Mannings on “Monday Night Football,” so there’s no preseason. The first impression is often more important than the second in these situations.
The game started slowly because Peyton was running a no-huddle offense and looking for big plays rather than just taking the 7-yard outs he needed.
He was imitating Jon Gruden’s play-calling routine. He was scribbling plays on a whiteboard, which I’m sure made sense to Peyton, but we didn’t all throw 539 NFL touchdowns. He was trying on helmets that were too big for him. It was all far too ridiculous.
The Mannings and ESPN agreed that there was no need for a host for the show. It’s not easy to be the showrunner of a television show. Early on, the show needed someone to calm things down and ask some follow-up questions so we could get a better understanding of Peyton Manning’s brilliant football mind.
It needed to be a little more relaxed. When America’s guest, Charles Barkley, arrived at the end of the first quarter, it became even more so.
Because of his most un-Manning quality — his willingness to say whatever he really thinks — Barkley is probably the best studio analyst ever.
Barkley is so forthright on the air that he is no longer friends with Michael Jordan as a result of his candor about Jordan’s failures as the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Peyton Manning said before the start of Monday Night Manning that he will see flowers where there are weeds.
“I’m going to be hard-pressed to say anything negative,” Peyton said on Colin Cowherd’s podcast. “I’m going to be a quarterback defender, a player defender.”
The broadcast was immediately loosening up, with Eli asking Barkley if he was trying to make up money from weekend betting. Barkley stated that he was in the lead.
Peyton questioned whether Barkley had ever been booed at home, and Barkley quickly responded that he had played in Philadelphia. While everyone loves Peyton, Eli knows what it’s like to be booed at home while playing in New York, according to Barkley.
When Ray Lewis joined the Mannings, they became more interested in talking football, making fun of Eli, and recalling Lewis and the Ravens toying with Eli when he was a Giant rookie.
Eli was more relaxed throughout the night. It’s easy to like his “I’m just me” attitude.
Peyton is the main character. Early on, he didn’t seem to believe in himself, sounding and looking scripted. You can’t plan on watching TV on the spur of the moment. When topics arise, you simply state your opinion. Barkley’s secret sauce is this.
When you’re not trying to protect an image, it’s simple. Barkley’s snark isn’t required, but his willingness to share and simply talk about whatever comes up is.
Manning bemoaned a “horrible call” by the officials in the third quarter. As a player, he told a story about chewing out an official. He was so upset that he asked the NFL for the man’s address so he could write him an apology letter. Manning was not given it by the NFL.
“They thought I was going to egg his house or something,” Manning said.
He added, “The guy thinks I’m a jerk to this day.”