Everyone knew ESPN’s Monday Night Football “MegaCast” featuring Peyton and Eli Manning would be different.
But no one expected it to kick off with a discussion of acne after Peyton revealed the two hadn’t watched a Monday Night Football game together since 1992, when he was a senior in high school.
“My acne had cleared up, if I recall,” Peyton said after mentioning Eli’s oversized braces.
“No, no. Incorrect.” Eli interjected. “Your acne was at an all-time high. You had a great case of bacne going on. You were the guy that if you were trying to get people to put sunscreen on your back, everybody’s like, ‘No, I’m not touching your back.”
And so it went.
The Mannings naturally went back and forth all night — from talking about the game and Jon Gruden’s insane play-calling terminology to discussing Eli’s poor 40-yard dash score in middle school. They even brought in Sixers Hall of Famer Charles Barkley midway through the first quarter and covered a topics that ranged from sports betting and angry fans.
“Hey Charles, you ever get booed at home? Never happened to you, right?” Peyton asked.
“I played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was a regularity,” Barkley shot back. “You were lucky, Peyton. Everybody liked you. Eli knows what it’s like to get booed at home.”
There were a few bumps in the broadcast. Peyton seemed a bit forced at first, but after Barkley’s appearance he settled into a more conversational tone in the second half. Microphones went in and out several times, and the broadcast cut to commercial while the Mannings were in mid-sentence a few times.
There was also a fire alarm that interrupted the game just before halftime, and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce painted the broadcast blue with some foul language in the third quarter.
Still, the Manning brothers had a lot of chemistry, doled out a ton of football knowledge, and kept things light with Barkley, Kelce, and two other guests — Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who was terrific analyzing the action at the end of the game.
“Monday Night Football’s big problem is that there’s a ton of football on TV. Monday has to be fun,” The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis wrote on Twitter. “This is fun.”
One great moment was when Peyton talked about wanting to apologize to a referee after laying into him over a holding call during a game, but the league wouldn’t reveal his address.
“They thought I was going to, like, egg his house or something,” Peyton complained. “The guy thinks I’m a jerk to this day because I cussed him out.”
Peyton and Eli will get together nine more times this season to offer their alternate Monday Night Football broadcast on ESPN2. The two will be in separate locations — Eli in his New Jersey home, Peyton in a Denver warehouse converted into a studio. Monday night, they were both in ESPN’s South Street Seaport complex in New York after attending the funeral of longtime ESPYs producer Maura Mandt, but filmed from separate studios to keep their format consistent with future episodes.
ESPN hasn’t announced every game the Manning’s “MegaCast” will be available for, but they’ll broadcast again next week for Lions-Packers and in Week 3, when the Eagles travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
An open question is what impact the Manning brothers’ broadcast will have on ESPN’s main Monday Night Football crew, which consists of play-by-play announcer Steve Levy, analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese, and sideline reporter (and King of Prussia native) Lisa Salters. Lee Fitting, a senior vice president of production for ESPN, said the trio were only told about the alternate broadcast just before it was announced publicly in July.
“This deal was something that was kept under wraps for a while at our urging and at Peyton and Eli’s urging. So it wasn’t until shortly before the deal was announced that we did tell them,” Fitting said during a recent conference call. “We’re looking to do something different with Peyton and Eli. That feeling is mutual... I think it’s pretty clear that if Peyton or Eli wanted to be in a booth, they probably would have been in some booth at some network by now.”
Griese said he doesn’t view the Mannings as competition. He thinks having them offer different points of view as an alternate broadcast will only help grow the number of fans who watch games this season.
“I think it’s good to have him in the fold, and I look forward to seeing kind of what they come up with,” Griese said. “I’m sure there’s going to be back and forth, ‘the Monday night guys said this, Peyton said that,’ and I think there’s an opportunity to have fun, and interesting and deeper dialogue that comes out of that.”