clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Peyton Manning can give life to the ‘Monday Night Football’ booth

ESPN was initially trying to pair him with Al Michaels.

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Peyton Manning has been retired since 2016, but he could be making a return to the field soon. No, not as a player, but as a broadcaster. The New York Post initially reported that ESPN was trying to team Manning up with longtime NBC announcer Al Michaels for Monday Night Football. But on March 10, the outlet reported that NBC declined ESPN’s request to partake in trade talks to get Michaels to join.

It added that ESPN has started talks with Manning to get him to start his career in the booth. While Michaels’ contract with NBC doesn’t expire until after the Super Bowl in February 2022, Manning could sign on tomorrow, if he wanted.

The news comes shortly after Tony Romo became the highest-paid broadcaster in TV history. ESPN was reportedly attempting to have Romo join the MNF booth, but he agreed to a new $17 million per year deal to remain at CBS. The Post’s report indicates that while NBC has denied ESPN’s initial attempt at talks with Michaels, it “can’t be ruled out” that won’t be revisited.

Here’s more from The New York Post’s March 10 report:

Meanwhile, ESPN has begun talks with Manning in hopes of signing him with or without Michaels, according to sources. Manning — who since retiring from playing has spent part of his time turning down networks — has not fully indicated yet if he wants to finally be a broadcaster.

Since Jon Gruden left the MNF booth after the 2017 season, the talent has declined. In 2018, the crew included Joe Tessitore on play-by-play and Jason Witten alongside him, with Booger McFarland in a ridiculous BoogerMobile on the sidelines. McFarland went up in the booth to take Witten’s place when he returned to the Cowboys in 2019. All in all, the broadcast is far less entertaining than it was with Gruden.

Whether ESPN lands Michaels or not, Manning alone would be a pretty sweet consolation prize after the network missed out on Romo. Although Manning did some work with ESPN+ and his Peyton’s Places show last season, he’s still never called games before.

So what exactly does Manning have to do to be a success for Monday Night Football? Here are a couple of easy suggestions.

Avoid being constantly wrong

Hiring Manning would be a win for ESPN, if only because it would allow the network to keep pace in the broadcasting arms race. Fox has Troy Aikman. CBS just gave Romo oodles of cash. Now ESPN would get an even more recognizable NFL QB in its booth. Keeping Manning from joining another network is notable in itself.

As far as acquitting himself in the booth, Manning would draw immediate comparisons to Witten and McFarland, two other former players-turned-MNF commentators.

Good lord, that is a low bar.

We don’t know how Manning would do from an analytical standpoint. Will he be able to predict plays before they happen, like Romo? Maybe not, but he brings a valuable background that Witten and McFarland didn’t have: two-plus decades of reading defenses and understanding what audibles a quarterback will call out of them.

So much of Romo’s success has been his ability to convey the basics of quarterbacking to a national audience. He breaks complicated reads down to simple concepts in order to tell us when a passer is killing a play at the line of scrimmage, calling a pre-snap audible, or singling out a particular weakness in coverage. When that’s done right, it’s incredible insight. When it’s done wrong, it’s the kind of fodder that got Witten and Booger relentlessly dunked on by the TV-viewing public the last two years.

I think the man who made the “Omaha!” audible recognizable would be able to provide that kind of background from the booth. He doesn’t have to be Romo to do that — but his old colleague is a solid example to follow.

Just have fun!

No, Manning shouldn’t try to be Romo in the booth. But he should try channel his funnier side during games instead of making it all about serious commentary, as we’ve seen from Romo. We know Manning is capable of doing just that, too.

His United Way sketch on Saturday Night Live is an all-time classic:

He’s been in numerous commercials that have allowed him to show off his personality and sense of humor. He was a MasterCard spokesman for years. Those ads usually included funny football-related plays off the company’s “priceless” tagline:

His “chicken parm you taste so good” commercial for Nationwide was also a big hit.

Manning wasn’t exactly the most colorful quarterback when he was in the league, but these commercials at least proved he can be silly at times.

If Manning can tap into that persona and balance that with smart analysis in the booth, MNF can get what it’s been missing the last couple of seasons.

Simply put, the crew hasn’t had the goofy charm that Gruden brought each week, and neither of his two replacements have been very enjoyable on-air. Manning might be able to fix that.