A somewhat unusual topic for this blog, though it does feature football to some degree. What’s under the microscope for this piece is not so much football itself, but the way it was covered. Specifically, a unique broadcast alternative that started this year, where former star quarterbacks (and brothers) Peyton and Eli Manning watch a game and commentate while doing so.
I don’t recall where I saw this (probably ProFootballTalk), but this “MNF with Peyton & Eli” block was described as something of a more relaxed viewing alternative to the standard broadcast. Like sitting in a bar and watching with your buddies, so to speak. I was intrigued, to be sure, as the normal situation revolves around a two to three person team talking over football in a professional manner and, debatably, with little personality.
Peyton & Eli did end up being somewhat of a more unkempt flavor of football commentary. What it also did was completely trust the Manning brothers with what I assume to be near-complete creative freedom with how the show was conducted. This assumption gave birth to the first episode of a series I both hope continues forever and gets cancelled tomorrow.
I don’t know how many people reading my blog are football fans, so for those unaware, the Manning brothers were pretty good at the sport. Peyton, especially, is regarded as among the greatest quarterbacks the sport has ever seen, while brother Eli is a borderline Hall of Famer himself. They have four Super Bowl victories, 900 touchdown passes, and nearly 130,000 passing yards between them. With this in mind, they probably know a lot about football.
Hearing them talk about the ins and outs of football schemes, particularly defenses, was a captivating topic of conversation through and through. Their insight as quarterbacks less than a decade removed from the game (only two years for Eli) also gives them intel on current offensive schemes, terminology, and tactics. Peyton would remark about how specific moments of a game, where teams were forced to use a timeout, “wouldn’t hurt him” due to the context in which they were used, as if he were in the game himself.
Among the two, Peyton was clearly the more talkative. Eli was more reserved and “straight” while Peyton served as more of the color commentator, which works well enough given their effective chemistry. Being brothers (I know this as a brother myself), they clearly have a tight bond with one another that allows them to bring out the fun in one another. Many jabs were made at each other’s expense, as siblings are prone to doing (out of love, of course), which made the thing more fun.
From the account of Michael Strahan during an episode of America’s Game, Eli has a very calm, rather stoic aura, so him being the less talkative one of the two was expected. Peyton, given his experience in commercials and SNL hosting, is more confident, more outspoken and perhaps cocky. Disregarding the fact that they’re related, it’s similar to that of a Summerall-Madden duo where they complement one another through similar intelligence and wildly different outward personalities. And for that, it works.
These two quarterbacks also shared quite a bit about their experiences within the NFL, as well. Peyton apparently cussed out a referee for a holding call and felt so bad about it that he wanted to write them an apology letter, but the NFL wouldn’t give him the ref’s address. Eli was convinced that Travis Kelce, regarded as one of today’s best tight ends, makes up his routes as he goes (Kelce came on as a guest and slyly confirmed this). More stories in the future would be greatly appreciated.
Perhaps most of all, these two are pretty funny. How they jab one another is relentless at times yet hysterical all the same. Eli commenting on Peyton’s XXL-sized head. Peyton glorifying Eli’s 0.0 quarterback rating against the Ravens in his rookie year. These were just two of multiple times where they exchanged blows that kept the energy going. Again, it’s the chemistry. These two are clearly comfortable with one another and close, and that has an effect on the viewer’s engagement.
Finally, I want to commend their final guest in Russell Wilson (another one of today’s better quarterbacks). Upon his appearance, the topics of conversation and insight on the game remained fairly consistent and, while somewhat less exciting, gave the show a feeling of legitimacy. At least, as legitimate as three quarterbacks watching a game and commenting on it can be. It was just football, and maybe that’s how the show needed to end after a lot of… other things happened up to that point…
Oh, what a debut it was.
I mentioned near the beginning that the Peyton & Eli broadcast seemed to reward the Mannings (probably Peyton, specifically) with complete creative control of how the show ran. That went about as well as handing the car keys to a legally blind teenager.
Now, I’m about to get into a whole lot of technical nitpicks about how the show was not professional in the absolute slightest. Some will argue that that wasn’t the point. However, this is still airing on a semi-major network (ESPN2) and is a sister channel to one of the most mainstream sports networks on cable television. So I would’ve expected at least something to the degree of “uniform” they would actually want to show to a major audience. Keep that in mind as I continue.
The Mannings would do these following things constantly throughout, some more than others and a few more near the beginning:
- Talk over penalties.
- Switch the camera to feature exactly zero coverage of the game.
- Continue a train of conversation into commercial breaks.
- Sit in silence for an awkwardly long time.
- Accidentally (I presume) switch the camera to feature a shot in-studio, only to go back to a shot of the game.
- Peyton, specifically, tried to incorporate this whole “whiteboard” shtick where he would get up and write a bunch of random terminology on a whiteboard like a maniac. He often cut away from the game to do so.
- Fumble with the technology present to adequately showcase replays of specific plays.
- Bring in guests with varied amounts of knowledge on how to look presentable in front of a webcam.
- Not pay close enough attention to the game to realize why the game broadcast was showing high school highlights of Lamar Jackson and Trayvon Mullen together (they’re cousins).
All of this combined, throughout a 210-minute broadcast (the game went well into overtime), ended up serving as a mighty distraction to actually watching the game. It’s also mostly why I loved when Russell Wilson entered the fray in the fourth quarter onward, as the amount of things listed almost completely diminished once he was onscreen. For whatever reason, Wilson just made everything seem more chill. Maybe that’s his superpower.
These sort of nitpicks on their own are just that: nitpicks. One could also argue that this is the first time anything like this has ever been conceived before for actual broadcast on television, so cut ’em some slack. But because they’re so plentiful and continued on for what seemed like forever, I was annoyed just as much as enthused with the show at varying timestamps, with the annoyance bubbling early and smoothing out by the end.
Alas, I am not done—if only I were done. Those were just small technical things. A variety of other things occurred that gave this first show a pretty… let’s say “wild” flavor. Many of these things occurred, specifically, with the guests.
First up was Charles Barkley, retired Hall of Fame basketball player, who came in near the end of the first quarter, if I recall. Sporting a Carl Nassib Raiders jersey (only active openly gay NFL player), he was generally fine for a while. Then it got to a point where he started heckling Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, bemoaning whether he was going to “overthrow everyone all game,” or something to that extent. It’s one thing to show clear bias, it’s another to rip into someone so blatantly live on-air (Eli tried to temper the emotions after the comment).
Then came Travis Kelce, already mentioned above as being among the guestlist for this broadcast. He made a couple eyebrow-raising comments, perhaps ignorantly or the situation seemed too “comfortable.” First, he said “shit” on live television. Some networks allow this, but generally not these ones. (No “shits” and “fucks,” kids.)
Then, while reminiscing about a game during his earlier years in the NFL, he openly stated Washington’s problematic deadname. This is something that the NFL and its media partners have been trying very, very, very, very, very hard to never bring up ever again. And Kelce said it casually in a ten-minute guest segment on a widely televised network affiliated with the NFL. Big yikes.
Then there’s the camera stuff in general. Sometimes Peyton would just get up off his little box feed and then not have the camera pan to him at all, or at least very late. Then even when it does, we can’t see anything that he’s writing on the whiteboard or doing because the image is too small.
A couple times, it would cut to the in-studio feed and pan around, and some dude would just be walking around in the background, seeming like he has no idea what’s going on. Like Peyton just walked in and made himself at home. Who was that dude? What was he doing there? Was he supposed to be there? Did he know that Peyton was doing a thing in there? So many unknowns…
Shortly before the end of the second quarter, the fire alarm in the studio started to go off. Nothing triggered it, no one bothered to shut it off. The Mannings made a couple jokes out of it and left it running. As they went to commercial, it just kept ringing. Incessantly. It would stop by the start of halftime, but somewhere deep within the recesses of my subconscious, it just kept ringing.
I will watch this every Monday without reservation. Monday Night Football with Peyton & Eli is an experiment gone diagonal. It feels like it was produced by a couple of monkeys with way too little knowledge of how to actually make a show, but damn if those monkeys aren’t super entertaining. Chemistry alone makes the Manning brothers enjoyable to watch, and it’s certainly more entertaining than the usual duo of [insert random old white dude] and [retired NFL player].
Even at the occasional expense of watching the game without distraction, it’s just more fun when the people commenting on it know how to entertain; when they know what they’re talking about. They don’t seem concerned about how the company may think of their performance or network interests and [big corporate rant here]; they’re just talking football. And that’s rad. All I ask is that they please stop cutting away from the game to do some stupid bullshit.
For more posts on this topic, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.