Peyton, Eli Manning made ESPN's broadcast of Ravens-Raiders MNF thriller a must-watch for fans hungry for something different

·Columnist
·4 min read

There was insight into how football is played and practiced — breaking down audible verbiage, discussing film study and offering truisms such as “third downs are converted on first and second down.”

There were entertaining, if obscure, stories — how about then-San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh once ordering a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich from the wife of his offensive coordinator, Greg Roman?

There were painful reactions to bad plays, especially by the offense. “Disaster,” Peyton Manning said at one point.

There were special guests, including Charles Barkley, Ray Lewis and Travis Kelce.

And whenever things got slow on ESPN2’s Peyton and Eli Manning alternate broadcast of "Monday Night Football," there were jokes about the size of Peyton’s head.

“You need some more powder on that forehead, it looks like you sprayed Pam [cooking spray] on that thing,” Eli cracked.

“Shocking a helmet doesn’t fit you,” Eli said as Peyton tried to squeeze a Baltimore Ravens one on. “Do they have a double XL for your forehead?”

“Ray,” Eli asked Lewis, “would you want one of [Peyton's] helmets filled with quarters or $10,000 in cash? Which would be worth more?”

Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Eli Manning on
Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Eli Manning on "Monday Night Football." (Yahoo Sports via ESPN)

This may or may not be the future of broadcasting. Either way, it was fun, interesting and addictive. Considering anyone who wanted to watch a traditional broadcast had that option over on ESPN courtesy of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese, it was harmless and non-intrusive.

One can only imagine what a charity auction item would fetch if it featured getting to watch "Monday Night Football" with Peyton and Eli, who own a combined four Super Bowl titles and a million football stories and jokes.

The broadcast wasn’t perfect, but this was Week 1 (of 10) so that should improve. Peyton does more of the talking (brother dynamic), but Eli wasn’t lacking here. Some key developments in the game (a 33-27 Las Vegas overtime victory against Baltimore) were completely missed, but, again, that’s the point.

If this kind of stuff suits you, then this was exceptional.

Peyton revealed that if he didn’t like a coach's call, he’d pretend the speaker in his helmet was broken and call his own play. “Rich Gannon taught me that one.” Both he and Eli were troubled that Raider fans were too loud while their team was on offense and causing execution failures.

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It’s unlikely anyone else could pull this off. The comfort level between them is not easily duplicated, of course. This is the chemistry of being brothers, so when they ripped each other mercilessly throughout the broadcast, it never felt anything but fun and natural.

The addition of the guests helped. The back-and-forth between the Mannings and Lewis about old games was pure gold.

Consider that as a rookie, Eli managed a rare 0.0 passer rating when he faced the Ravens. Meanwhile, Peyton said he turned down Lewis’ recruiting pitches to sign with Baltimore because he felt practicing against Lewis and Ed Reed would’ve destroyed his confidence.

Barkley delivered one-liners and Kelce offered some unexpected insight — he apparently had no idea Kansas City was playing Baltimore in Week 2.

There was plenty of inside football talk, too. They broke down coverages, down-and-distance concepts, and decried penalties. 

Then when it got serious, they’d do something like joke that they taught Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson all his open-field moves when he came to their Manning Passing Academy.

“He was asking me how I liked to juke in the open field,” Peyton said with a laugh.

Eli later predicted Peyton would pull “a hip” if he tried one of the moves.

Considering there are about 10,000 football games broadcast on television each week, and almost every single one of them follows the same formula, this is a welcome addition to the schedule.

It’s not the main broadcast trying to force a comedian or political commentator on, which didn’t work for ESPN in the past. This is just something extra.

It’s almost amazing the Mannings even bother to do this (obviously they are being well-compensated, but it’s not like these two are lacking for cash). Neither wanted the job of a traditional television analyst due to business and family responsibilities. The lack of travel (they broadcast remotely and separately) and doing just 10 weeks seemed to be key to drawing them in for this project.

Either way, it’s a big win for the viewer. It’s Peyton and Eli, a couple of football-loving brothers, watching the game together. The rest of us get to listen, including next week when Detroit visits Green Bay.

It may never get a bigger rating than the regular broadcast, but for anyone looking for something different, this is must-see TV.

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