I have seen the future of “Monday Night Football,” and it is Manning.
If you didn’t check your local listings for the NFL’s Week 1 capper between the Ravens and Raiders in Las Vegas – tuning in to ESPN by rote – then you missed the alternate simulcast on ESPN2, “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli.”
Amazing – especially since the Silver and Black’s dramatic 33-27 overtime win didn’t require bells and whistles.
The retired quarterbacking legends and princes of the league’s royal family weren’t exactly on their basement couches, mainlining nachos.
What they were doing was breathing new life into a staid medium.
► Humor? Check – Eli repeatedly giving his older brother the business, even asking if Peyton had sprayed Pam onto his shiny, prominent forehead. Peyton predicted a 6-11 season for the Raiders based purely on their game-opening incompletion. Sarcasm and self-deprecation were on display in roughly equal measure.
► Football vignettes? Yup – Peyton gleefully recounting a story of then-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh asking the wife of Manning confidant (and then-Duke coach) David Cutcliffe to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after Manning worked out for San Francisco during the 2012 offseason as he tried to decide which team to sign with following his departure from the Indianapolis Colts. Both Mannings shared the challenges of playing and succeeding in a new, unfamiliar football facility on a night when the Raiders played their first regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium (aka the “Death Star”) in front of Las Vegas fans. Peyton tried to help QB Derek Carry by urging Raider fans to quiet down in order to help the home team’s offense – rookie fans, ya know, like some of the ones Manning trained in Indy.
► X’s and O’s? Of course – Eli armed with the telestrator and Peyton with a white board as they dove in-depth on certain sequences, Peyton even donning a Ravens helmet and Jon Gruden visor as he called out plays and audibles. He even tried to downplay the importance of converting on third down, saying the best teams he played for emphasized success on first and second down so they didn’t get boxed in to bad situations on third. Even after nearly four hours of football, Peyton was tracking how often the Raiders’ defense had blitzed.
► Celebrity guests? Got that, too – Charles Barkley, Ray Lewis, Travis Kelce and Russell Wilson dropped by to sprinkle in humor and their own football perspectives. Wilson geeked out on inside-baseball stuff and suggested alternate ways the NFL should legislate overtime and ties as the teams battled through a deadlocked fourth quarter. He even procrastinated preparing for the Tennessee Titans to hang out with the Manning Bros. for the duration. Meanwhile, Barkley talked about how his Week 1 bets had fared.
Was there always even flow? No, but it was opening night. Did a fire alarm go off in Peyton’s studio, and did Eli’s mic temporarily fail? Yes, though those issues were quickly resolved. If you were worried about injury news, or missed tales from pregame production meetings and constant down-and-distance updates, this probably wasn’t the broadcast for you. (Admittedly, I felt guilty for not tuning in for the unsparing and incisive analysis ESPN’s Louis Riddick consistently provides from the network’s primary “MNF” booth.)
But if you want fresh, funny, educational and unscripted, this is going to be awfully hard to beat after a traditional weekend of football.
I’m not sure I can ever go back to Riddick and Co.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.