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THE PEYTON AND ELI EFFECT: BRACE FOR ALL THE COPYCATS
They have the attention of an alternate TV universe — and the scorched ears of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — but enjoy the Mannings while you have them, as their “MNF’’ residency likely is temporary
What have you done, Peyton and Eli Manning? In an industry where executives aren’t trying if they aren’t stealing programming ideas, I’m waiting for a network boss to remember when Jon Stewart cracked on Tucker Carlson — called him “a dick,’’ in fact — and lock them inside a steel cage to call an NFL alternate telecast.
Now that the chit-chatting football brothers have established they can attract 1.8 million people to watch them shoot the bull in their respective Man-ning Caves, a churn of copycats across the sportscasting landscape is inevitable. As Eli continued to make fun of his brother’s famously large forehead, ignoring Peyton’s protests during their second “Monday Night Football’’ presentation, just imagine the potential sparring partnerships in entertainment and sports.
Trump and Obama?
Godzilla and Kong?
Kanye and Drake?
Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau?
Maskers and anti-vaxxers?
The Burger King mascot and Jack in the Box creep?
Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.?
Olivia Rodrigo and the dude she’s screaming about in the song?
Once again, Peyton and Eli gave fans an enjoyable escape from a main “MNF’’ telecast that has underachieved for decades on ESPN. Don’t be naive and call this a revolutionary concept — see: “Wayne’s World,’’ 1992 — but their cable-access-style bromance is growing on me as Peyton sits in a pal’s warehouse in Denver and Eli in the den of his New Jersey home. Their banter is natural and engaging, and if you weren’t staring at them on a screen, you’d think they were across the room.
When they weren’t trash-talking each other, with Peyton insulting Eli about the time in high school he “ran a 6.2’’ in a 40-yard dash, no target was safe. They couldn’t wait to hammer the New England Patriots for their cheating, lying, Spygate-and-Deflategate past. With two Super Bowl victories, Eli managed to avenge the many AFC playoff setbacks suffered by Peyton at the hands of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But all these years later, the brothers conspired to run back the scandals for their astounded viewers, with Peyton suggesting the Green Bay Packers — who emphasized the run early in a 35-17 victory over Detroit after a Week 1 crash against New Orleans — had listened to his recent conversation with Eli to that effect.
“I think our conversation was bugged, kind of like the Patriots used to do back in the day,’’ said Peyton, eagerly re-planting the dirty seed.
Eli responded with a reminder that the Patriots, while he and the New York Giants were preparing for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, worked out that week at the home facility of Peyton and the Colts. “Were you a little nervous going back into your facility the next year, that they didn’t have cameras in your quarterback room?’’ Eli said.
“Every time I played (at) New England, I used to talk to my receivers in the showers in the far corner,’’ Peyton said. “Don't talk about a play next to my locker because I know it's bugged. I know it’s got a hot mic in there. In the shower, it’s very strange to see seven guys hanging out. But we take all precautions.’’
When Rob Gronkowski appeared as a guest, he thanked Peyton for an effective pass play that the Patriots borrowed from him in their dynasty years. “It’s about time,’’ Manning said. “I’ve heard nothing from Tom.’’
Is he just a little bitter, as a 45-year-old talking head, as Brady eyes an eighth Super Bowl ring in Tampa Bay after throwing nine touchdown passes in his first two games this season? Or, is Manning just posing as the wise guy we see in the commercials?
Predictably, Peyton was quick to defend Aaron Rodgers, who received well-deserved criticism when he followed an offseason of trade demands and management-bashing with an aloof performance in the opening loss. He offered inside information about Rodgers’ relationship with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, reporting that the reigning league MVP has the “freedom to call the plays he wants’’ only in two-minute drills. Afterward, Rodgers provided another hint when the thanked LaFleur for “dialing up’’ big second-half plays within a controlled scheme.
Not even Tony Romo escaped the crossfire. When Peyton incorrectly predicted a play in the style of Romo, who has parlayed prognostication into a $180 million deal with CBS. Eli came back with, “Nice call, Romo.’’ The Mannings can take solace in their four collective Vince Lombardi Trophies, while Romo never came close in Dallas.
Pat McAfee, Peyton’s former teammate, only came to the show with love and expletives. “When Peyton put his hands up to quiet the crowd on offense, babies would stop crying in hospitals in Indianapolis,’’ he said. McAfee related a gambling story, something about Peyton walking by at a roulette table and suggesting, “How about that red-18, Pat. He gives me a gun and a wink.’’ McAfee and everyone else at the table played 18 — Manning’s jersey number — and “it was at that moment, if Peyton tells me to jump, how high.’’ Since then, McAfee says he gambles money on every forecast Manning makes, saying, “I bet that son of a bitch was right.’’ The bro-dudes in the audience loved it.
The problem with the Peyton and Eli Cast is that it’s not long for the media world. As it is, this is a limited engagement with no firm schedule beyond Week 3 — meaning, at some point, they’ll lose continuity and ratings momentum. They’ll do a few more shows this season, but can you honestly see the Mannings — both fathers and husbands with plenty happening in life — committing to these gabfests much longer? They aren’t exactly two talk-radio hosts who need the money. As for the future, Peyton is keenly interested in NFL ownership, and he’s well aware that the Denver Broncos will be sold to the highest bidder next year, good news for a man who is raising his kids in the area. Imagine him as ownership’s public face, joining major investors Jeff Bezos and Jay-Z in a possible $4 billion deal.
That way, he’ll be involved in running the show instead of absorbing feedback from critics, including the meddling ESPN bosses capable of ruining his fun. “I’ve got to slow down. Don’t cross your legs,’’ he said. “Have Eli stop making fun of my forehead.’’
“I have a Top 10 of forehead jokes,’’ Eli countered. “It’s actually a five-head, it’s so big. Or a cowbell.’’
With that, Peyton and Eli might have jumped the shark. In TV parlance, that means peaking and making way for The Next Thing.
Such as, Pat McAfee and Dave Portnoy.
No, I didn’t say that.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.