ESPN’s plan for an alternate Monday Night Football broadcast anchored by Peyton and Eli Manning sounded absurd. Instead, it might be the best thing to happen to sports broadcasting in years. Truly wild to be writing that sentence, but it made an already-thrilling game much more entertaining, and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive.
It was truly engaging and fresh from beginning to end, and it’s VERY rare to say that about a sports broadcast. Play-by-play and color analysis are so ingrained into sports vernacular that it often gets tuned out, like the white noise of sports. I’m saying this as someone who started their media career in play-by-play and color commentary. The Manning Bros. broadcast was something much different. It was part podcast, part live reaction show. Peyton and Eli are both funny, we’ve seen that before in scripted moments (like commercials and Saturday Night Live). That translated into the game broadcast in a big way, without being overpowering. Both guys also know a TON about football and watching them break down the game as it was happening was informative, and extremely interesting.
“Did he say delay of game?”
“They didn’t have a timeout? oh my gosh.”
“Now they gotta send the offense back??”
Just complete disbelief by Eli, Peyton and Russell.
What an ending.pic.twitter.com/hYRYP1MQbn
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 14, 2021
Add in their natural chemistry, as they continuously cracked on each other like only brothers can, and it really livened up the slower moments as they clowned on each other. Add on to that a few big-name guests that would jump on for awhile, and the broadcast became part interview show, part football reaction.
Not only did they do strong X and O analysis and breakdown, but they also weren’t shy with their opinions, at times hammering the play calls. There was also just the randomness involved in the broadcast, like Eli’s fire alarm going off or when Travis Kelce dropped a curse word on live TV (hey, it’s cable).
Here’s a fire alarm going off during the ESPN MNF broadcast with Peyton and Eli Manning. 😂 pic.twitter.com/nwdDt1iZc9
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) September 14, 2021
It’s a rare broadcast innovation that actually changes how you watch the game. Especially for something like Monday Night Football, which has a lot of casual fans anyway. And the Mannings ended up being a great duo to handle this because they didn’t talk over each other constantly, it wasn’t a three-hour yell fest (looking at you, rest of ESPN’s programming), and they still found their shots to be funny and informative. This could absolutely work with other commentator collaborations, and in other sports. Having a couple of hockey greats or NBA legends breaking down a game, razzing each other and telling stories would be appointment television.
Many scoffed at MNF’s plan to have Peyton and Eli do games from a separate location and not in the booth, but this was way more entertaining than if they had been forced on site. This felt much more like you were watching the game with two incredibly knowledgeable and funny friends.