The Mannings on “Monday Night Football” was billed as hanging out at a bar with Peyton and Eli to watch a game.
If someone came on as strong as Peyton when you first met them for a drink, you would run out of the joint, yelling, “Omaha! Omaha!”
At the start, Peyton started talking at a million miles a minute, as if he were paid by the word, which still might be a cut from the God knows how many millions ESPN is direct-depositing him to do these jazzed up Zooms with his brother for 10 “MNF” games.
It was tough at the start. As the show went on, when Peyton and Eli focused more on the intricacies of the game — and not the Mannings nostalgia show — it got better. We want to hear their football genius. ESPN realized it, too.
By halftime, ESPN’s senior VP of production, Lee Fitting, suggested to the Mannings to focus more on football. Peyton, we were told, was receptive. This was the right call.
Still, this is the Mannings on “Monday Night,” so there is no preseason. In these type of events, the first-half impression is often more important than the second.
The show began slowly, which was largely because Peyton was running a no-huddle, looking for big plays instead of just taking the 7-yard outs he needed.
He was doing a Jon Gruden skit on play-calling. He was confusingly explaining plays on a whiteboard, which I’m sure made sense in Peyton’s head, but we all didn’t throw 539 NFL TDs. He was trying on ill-fitting helmets. It was all too goofy.
The Mannings and ESPN agreed the show did not need a host. It is not easy to quarterback a TV show. Early, the program needed someone to calm things down, ask some follow-ups questions so we could understand Peyton’s beautiful football mind.
It needed to be looser. And it became a little more that way when America’s guest, Charles Barkley showed up at the end of the first quarter.
Barkley is probably the best studio analyst ever in part because of his most un-Manning quality — his willingness to say whatever he really thinks.
Barkley is so honest on the air that he is no longer friends with Michael Jordan after being truthful about Jordan’s failures as Charlotte’s owner. Before Monday Night Manning started, Peyton said he will see flowers when 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.”Peyton (l) and Eli Manning (r) made their broadcasting debut together Monday, and it included an appearance from Charles Barkley (lower left).ESPN
Barkley immediately loosened up the broadcast, beginning with Eli asking Barkley whether he were trying to make up money from weekend betting. Barkley said he was ahead.
When Peyton doubted Barkley was ever booed at home, Barkley quickly shot back that he played in Philadelphia. Barkley added, while everyone may love Peyton, Eli knows about being booed at home, playing in New York.
When Ray Lewis joined the Mannings, they got more into talking football, making fun of Eli, reminiscing about Lewis and the Ravens just toying with Eli as a Giant rookie.
The whole night, Eli was more chill. His “I’m just me” personality is easy to like.
Peyton is the star. He didn’t seem to trust himself early, sounding and looking scripted. You can’t plan spontaneous TV. Subjects come up, and you just say what you think. That’s Barkley secret sauce.
It is easy when you aren’t trying to protect an image. You don’t have to have Barkley’s snark, but you do need his willingness to share and just talk about what comes up.
In the third quarter, Manning lamented a “horrible call” by the refs. He told a story of chewing out an official as a player. He felt so bad he asked the NFL for the guy’s address so he could write him a letter of apology. The NFL declined to give it to Manning.
“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.”
It was quirky and insightful. Pour me another.
In the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson joined the Mannings. This was a clinic on what quarterbacks are thinking late in games. It was so much fun, Wilson even stayed for overtime.
That’s what the show should be. You are hanging at a bar and you don’t want to leave.