Peyton Manning is retired, a fact that has drastically affected people. Just look at the Denver Broncos. Last year they won the Super Bowl. Now they’re starting something called Trevor Siemian at quarterback.
It’s had an effect on Manning. He’s spent the last 20-plus years constantly training to make himself the best quarterback possible. Life must be strange for him now. Days once full of routine and purpose are now empty.
But most importantly, Manning’s retirement has had major implications for the world’s #brands. Due to his goofy, affable persona, Manning spent many years as the NFL’s premier pitchman. From every commercial break to his postgame interview after winning the freakin’ Super Bowl in his final career game, Manning was always sure to tell us, the regular humans watching his sports games, what we should spend our money on. What are the brands to do now that Manning is no longer a professional football player?
The brands’ first step has been a strange one. Three separate major American corporations have decided to produce advertising campaigns highlighting Manning’s post-retirement boredom.
At first, I thought this must be embarrassing for these companies and the people who make ads for them. They spend millions on these campaigns. How could they be so wildly uncreative as to all use the same idea?
But then I realized: These are not commercials. Manning’s new Nationwide ad doesn’t even mention what Nationwide sells. His Papa John’s ad shows a party where nobody is eating Papa John’s pizza — they’re waiting on Manning to make cupcakes, instead of eating such Papa John’s dessert products as the chocolate chip dessert pizza.
These companies sacrificed their millions to show us a day in Peyton Manning’s post-retirement life instead of selling us products. They want us to see Manning’s ennui.
Three of the ads specifically mention they take place on Sunday, and Nationwide’s says it shows a routine Manning follows every single day. Using these glimpses into Manning’s life, I’ve reconstructed Manning’s Sunday — and I’m worried about him.
Sunday, 9:47 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time. Peyton’s home.
Manning invites his brother Eli over to watch football and offers to make nachos. When his offer is rebuffed, Manning dedicates his entire Tuesday to hanging out with his brother (without Eli’s consent) filling in a date of his otherwise empty planner.
This seems like a normal request, but it is not. Peyton and Eli have not spent a regular season Sunday watching football together since at least 1997. Eli cannot come: He lives thousands of miles away, and is an NFL quarterback who needs to play football.
That he’s inviting his brother shows he’s lost grasp on reality, but it also reveals a deep loneliness. Which is strange, because he’s not alone.
Lionel Richie is in his house, playing the piano. Why doesn’t Manning invite Richie — who is already in his house — to watch football with him? Most Americans would be thrilled, or at least intrigued, by the opportunity to spend an afternoon with a musician of Richie’s caliber, listening to him play piano, and watching the day’s big NFL games.
Manning has the option to do something most of us never could, but his invitation of Eli shows that he’s attempting to create a more mundane existence. He wants the typical American Sunday experience — watching football with the family — because it’s something he’s never been able to do. But he can’t have that experience.
Manning is striving for normalcy — but the life he lives is inherently abnormal.
Sunday, 11:03 a.m., Mountain Standard Time: Peyton’s local park.
We know this is from the same day as the earlier commercial because Manning is dressed exactly the same.
You might think this is due to laziness, or because Manning does not know how to dress himself. But his career showed his intense motivation, and he’s spent decades appearing in all sorts of public situations. He knows how and cares enough to dress himself. I believe his disheveled appearance is intentional.
Manning approaches an old man on the bench with a question: “you like football?” Although the man replies positively, he doesn’t recognize the superstar. He walks away, completely uninterested in watching football with Manning.
Surely Peyton Manning could find somebody who “likes football” with ease. Millions of Americans know Manning, and would seize the opportunity to watch football with him.
It seems to me that he’s seeking out people like the man on the bench — people who don’t know him, people who are actively put off by his presence, people who can’t wait to get away from him.
After decades of fame and adulation, he craves anonymity. He’s searching for the least connected people he can find, just so they can reject him. That’s why he’s dressed like a slob — he’s trying to ensure he repulses the humans he encounters. He wants to feel like a nobody.
One more cause for alarm: Lionel Richie is still there:
Some view fame as a gift. To Manning, it is a curse, and he is literally being haunted by Lionel Richie, always smiling, always playing the piano.
Sunday, 1:47 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time. Peyton’s local diner.
Manning is eating lunch, and as we find out, he goes there every day to order the same thing.
(The thing: Chicken parm. It tastes so good.)
I’d like to examine the conversation he has with the man he’s eating lunch with.
Guy: So, how’s retirement?
Peyton: It’s feeling pretty busy, actually!
Peyton: Busy. Bees business bold. (Continued incomprehensible muttering)
It’s sad, but somewhat understandable, that Manning claims to be busy when we already know he is not. We all lie to make ourselves sound good.
But when confronted about it, he begins making random noises. Every time this ad airs, I focus on these noises. What is Manning trying to tell us with these attempts at language?
Unlike in the park, everybody here recognizes Manning. But they don’t recognize him for his football — they recognize him for the jingle which he sings in Nationwide ads, and refuse to acknowledge his speech unless he talks in jingle form.
He attempts to talk to them normally. But they shun him.
Manning does not enjoy this. He clearly doesn’t like this strange interpretation of why he’s famous, where people know him for a late-career ad campaign and not decades of spectacular football.
But he doesn’t intend to leave. He says “I’ll be here all week” — once again in his regular speaking voice, not partaking in the jingle.
He loathes this place, whose inhabitants remember him for the things he doesn’t want to be remembered for. And yet, he returns every day to be treated in a way he clearly despises. He’s not a glutton for the chicken parm — he’s a glutton for punishment.
Sunday, 3:42 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time. An unknown mansion.
Manning has been invited to a party attended by — hosted by? — J.J. Watt and Papa John.
Now we understand more closely why Manning is trying to escape the trappings of fame. Imagine attending a party with J.J. Watt and Papa John. Watt, endlessly spewing motivational memes at random attendees. The Papa, furiously drinking away his lifelong confusion at being a random non-Italian dude who has made tens of millions of dollars selling trash pizza. It sounds miserable.
It’s a strange party. The ad leads us to believe that this is a game day, but there’s no television, and J.J. Watt is somehow in attendance even though he plays football professionally. (I’d say it’s weird that Watt is wearing his own jersey at an off-field social event, but I wholly believe Watt wears his jersey everywhere he goes.)
In the park and diner, Manning was dealing with people who didn’t recognize him from football. Here, that’s impossible: Watt knows Manning from the NFL, and the Papa has spent years casually pretending to laugh at Manning’s football jokes on camera.
Manning wants to be treated like garbage, but Watt and the Papa never would. So Manning has taken to making cupcakes — an endeavor where he can be subservient, rather than the party’s centerpiece.
In spite of his clear attempt to make himself subservient, people at the party are humoring Manning’s strange passion for cupcakes. This is a party hosted by famed producer of food-esque substances, Papa John. But nobody is consuming his cardboard pizza. Some boxes are closed, the open pizzas are completely untouched.
Nobody is consuming Papa’s Cinnamon Pull-Aparts, a real thing sold by Papa John. Everybody is saving their stomach for Peyton’s cupcakes.
J.J. Watt even says “oooh, cupcakes!”
Manning wants to be ignored and looked down upon. But everybody is fawning over the opportunity to eat his extremely regular-looking cupcakes. They’re still treating him like he’s Peyton Manning.
He told everybody the cupcakes are ready, but when he sees everybody’s eagerness to eat them, he becomes sullen. He recommences airbrushing the supposedly ready cupcakes.
Notice the music playing while Manning prepares cupcakes: It’s the same song that provides the soundtrack to Jesse Pinkman’s all-night meth-selling mission.
It’s a telling musical choice. For some, cupcakes — like meth benders — are fun. But as the high of meth turns to the desperation of addiction, Manning’s diversion from football has become a fatalistic endeavor.
He doesn’t care if anybody eats his cupcakes. He doesn’t care if they taste good. He doesn’t care if J.J. Watt wants the cupcakes, or that this entire party has cast aside access to an unlimited quantity of whatever the hell Cinnamon Pull-Aparts are to taste his cupcakes. He is not making them to feel good.
There is a theme across these three commercials: The way Manning offers to make nachos for Eli. The way Manning orders the same chicken parm each and every day. The way Manning fixates on these cupcakes. With no football routine guiding him through each day of his life, Manning has begun to ritualize the preparation and consumption of food. Does he like these foods? No. But that’s the point: He hates them, and he hates that a life once filled with sublime routine has devolved into one where his daily highlight is chicken parm.
Football was the one thing Manning loved. And now it’s gone. So, he forces himself to endure a life where he’s rejected, ignored, looked down upon. He seeks situations where he is normal and uninteresting, to remind himself that his magnificent career is in the past. Manning is fueled by this masochism, driven to repeatedly remind himself that he is disgusted with his own normalcy.
I have thought long and hard about why these companies would produce these ads, rather than making ads featuring the products they’re selling.
The brands have witnessed Manning’s downward spiral, and they’re worried. Manning spent decades as a star pitchman for these companies, so they have foregone standard advertising protocol in helps of aiding their long-time hero. Their hope is to let us see the dreadful listlessness of Manning’s everyday, in hopes that we sound an alarm to help him.
Manning was always there for the brands. Now the brands are there for Peyton.