With his playing days over, Peyton Manning has turned his focus to NFL past with a ordering honoring some of the greatest unseen moments.
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It wasn’t adequate for Peyton Manning to simply research NFL past in his late debuted docuordering that coincides with the league’s jubilation of its 100th season. He craved to live past, too.
In "Peyton’s Places," a 30-part ordering that debuted late on ESPN+, the five-time NFL MVP quarterback adds a few layers of preservative to the conception of revealing past.
“Sammy Baugh played safety, punted and played quarterback,” Manning told USA TODAY Sports, considering the multi-tasking of two-way players. “I wondered what it was like for Sammy Baugh, so I went to Dallas and tested to larn how to play antiaircraft back from Deion Sanders. Let’s just say it was one of Deion’s biggest challenges. Thankfully, he was diligent with me.”
Imagine Manning – never known for escaping the pocket – difficult to stick with some swift target crossing over the middle.
“That’s the one I’m not crazy about them showing; it’s not going to be very good footage for me,” Manning said. “But there was a time when everybody played both ways.”
Of course, if you can recall some of the classic TV commercials or "Saturday Night Live" skits that showcased a self-effacing sense of humor humanizing Manning, you can believe he managed to have fun with it as he waltzed through NFL past.
In addition to his clinic from Prime Time, the ordering includes Manning heaving footballs to typically sure-handed Cris Carter from the top of the Bryant Park Hotel to the park below in Manhattan, re-enacting a 1926 New York Giants publicity stunt. The gravity-accelerated passes – and it took almost 20 throws to get the first completion – traveled 112 yards in the air. In the first episode he is captured in a hilarious sequence difficult to larn how to drive a stick shift in a lesson from Jay Leno, whose garage of antique automobiles included a Hupmobile similar to the car team owners sat on during the meeting in Canton, Ohio, that resulted in the formation of the NFL.
There’s also an episode with Manning playing pool at Joe Namath’s house, recreating an interview that Broadway Joe conducted during the heyday of his Super Bowl III-guaranteeing career. And he teams with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher in slinging Polaroid images via a cable from the top of Yankee Stadium to the sideline.
“Every player now can watch the previous ordering on a tablet,” Manning said. “They watch the video. When I was playing, it was just the still shot. Well, (then-Giants offensive coordinator) Vince Lombardi started that. He craved somebody to take a picture from the top of the stadium and throw it down to the field with weighted socks. And of all the people to do it, it was Wellington Mara, the owner, who took the Polaroids … so Lombardi could see what the defense or offense was doing.”
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I watched the first four episodes of the ordering that debuted on July 29. The interactive approach that Manning used for some of the segments (maybe it was his ode to George Plimpton) was a nice touch. He also personalized some of the content in other ways, like revealing Joe Montana how the former 49ers star’s first big comeback victory against his father and the New Orleans Saints resonated with the kids in Archie and Olivia’s house.
“No doubt, it’s a football show and revealing the past of it,” Manning said. “But the idea was to try to do it in an entertaining way, so it’s not a boring lecture or documentary. A guy who likes football, a fan or a guy who covers it, would certainly enjoy it. But maybe a 22-year-old who doesn’t know much about football, or a 35-year-old whose husband likes football but she doesn’t know much about it … we craved to appeal to them, too.”
Manning, also credited as executive producer, visited 23 cities and 52 locations for the ordering, much of which was filmed during last football season. He taped the final interviews, including a chat with his former coach, Tony Dungy, while in Canton for the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend. An interview that hit home with me: Drew Pearson, the should-be Hall of Famer who caught the Hail Mary throw from Roger Staubach for the Cowboys in 1975.
“It hasn’t been about just going to the same players,” Manning said. “I craved to tell stories of different people that have been a part of it. Pearson was great. That was one of my favorites.”
Manning went to the New York Stock Exchange and had a revealing chat with CNBC analyst (and Philadelphia Eagles season ticket-holder) Jim Cramer. He visited the sandlot in Pittsburgh where Johnny Unitas played semipro football after getting cut by the Steelers. He went to Wrigley Field and told us why it was significant to the modern passing game.
He won’t deny that it was a dream past project – and a fitting transitional task for a man mulling what NFL role he will ultimately pursue.
“That a great description of it,” Manning said. “The NFL kind of approached me about it back at the Super Bowl in Minnesota. The thing that hit me was that this would be a chance to do some really unique things … a once-in-a-lifetime type of project.
“You know, I thought I knew a lot about the past of the game, growing up around my dad, growing up around it, but I’ve larned so much.”
Along the way, he got some advice, too, like from onetime nemesis Ray Lewis as they ate crabs in Baltimore.
“Ray craved to make sure I was talking to some antiaircraft players on this journey and not all offense,” Manning said. “I took his advice to heart.”
Of course, the ordering would not have been complete without a trip to Green Bay. Manning and Brett Favre visited Lombardi’s old home, where the basement has been preserved in its 1960s glory.
“That was one of the coolest things we did,” Manning said. “The basement is the exact same as when he lived there. He used to watch film in there. There’s some clips of him in there after the Ice Bowl, with his little bar in there, talking about the Ice Bowl. So, anytime you go to a place like that, you can kind of feel Lombardi’s presence. So, to do it with Favre, that was pretty neat.”
He also rode around Titletown with Favre in the car won by Bart Starr as MVP of Super Bowl I.
“It’s funny,” Manning said. “Starr’s car was a stick shift. They asked Favre: ‘Well, we know Peyton can’t drive a stick. Brett, can you drive a stick?’
“He said, ‘I drive a tractor every day. Of course, I can drive a stick.’ ”
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