Broadcasting neophyte Peyton Manning was recently offered not one, but two of the biggest jobs in broadcasting. He turned both down. ESPN wanted him as part of a retooled Monday Night Football booth. Fox pined for his services on its newly acquired Thursday night package. Immense time and energy were expended trying to woo the future Hall of Fame quarterback even though — from a distance — Manning’s heart was never into either project. Like, obviously not into it.
We wake up today in late March knowing the same thing we’ve known for years. Manning’s idealized future is in a front office. His backup plan is likely the state or U.S. Senate. His safety school is schilling for every commercial sponsor who will have him.
Those searching for evidence Manning was ever seriously interested in announcing football games face a tall task. There was no public lobbying and little behind-the-scenes politicking. In fact, there were whispers that Manning was reticent, especially when it came to calling New York Giants games because of his brother Eli. James Andrew Miller revealed on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast that there was a second quarterback Manning also wanted to stay away from for another reason.
It’s unclear who that is, but here are two guesses: Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. The former because of how Manning left Indianapolis, the latter because the Patriots legend is a challenge to Peyton’s legacy. That’s a bit of a problem.
And yet, all indications are that ESPN and Fox were willing to roll out the red carpet for the 42-year-old in the belief they needed someone of his wattage to match the Tony Romo phenomenon. Broadcast can be every bit the copycat league the NFL is — and recently retired quarterbacks are the Wildcat.
Ironically, Romo’s incredible first year may have been another reason Manning didn’t sign on any dotted line. The constant comparisons wouldn’t have been a ton of fun and he’d be chasing a high bar. We know Manning is affable and a dynamic performer (see: his exemplary Saturday Night Live appearances) but most people don’t simply walk in and operate at Romo’s level. Usually there are some hiccups. Every one of his would have been dissected in great detail.
The dirty little secret here is that neither ESPN or Fox need Manning. Contingency plans for the former include Joe asasas, Louis Riddick, and Matt Hasselback. The latter could explore Kurt Warner, Jason Witten or the aforementioned Thomas.
Manning’s VORP over this field would be tempered by the salary demands. Sure, people are drawn to the shiniest object, but it’s my belief the main reason people watch football is because it’s on television. They’d watch a Steelers-Packers game if the broadcast booth consisted of two minor-league guys with no name recognition.
Fox and ESPN dodged a bullet. Manning’s future has always been as an owner or general manager and the broadcasting a brief detour. They just spent a lot of time and energy to find that out.