As ManningCast worked out the kinks, did it lose the unpredictability that made it so enjoyable?

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As ManningCast worked out the kinks, did it lose the unpredictability that made it so enjoyable?
© Provided by Awful Announcing

Normally on the nights when ESPN’s ManningCast of the Monday Night Football game is over, we do a recap of all the wild and wacky moments that occurred during the off-the-cuff alternate broadcast featuring Peyton and Eli Manning. But to be honest, we couldn’t really compile that many this time.

David Letterman stopped by and shared some funny anecdotes. Aqib Talib talked about his days playing with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. Joe Buck mended some fences with Eli Manning and talked shop. Meanwhile, the Pats and Buffalo Bills slugged it out on the field in the background. It was entertaining enough but, there just seemed to be something missing.

“Did you play a lot of football growing up?” – Peyton

“Have you seen me? Did you ever get a look at me? Did you ever see me in the shower? No, I didn’t play a lot of football.” – David Letterman#ManningCast

— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 7, 2021

The spontaneity that we’d gotten from the early versions of the ManningCast when a fire alarm would randomly go off, or Marshawn Lynch would drop an f-bomb, or Eli would give audiences double middle fingers or Peyton talk about being bugged by the Pats, seemed to be missing and has been for a couple of weeks now.

Some of that may have had to do with the fact that Letterman was late to appear due to connection issues, disappointing folks who turned in so they could see a comedy legend do his thing. Some of it also might have had to do with the fact that, much like last time, the game itself was a bit of a stinker, something the Manning brothers can’t help.

But it also feels like smaller spontaneous moments are missing. A few weeks back, cameras caught Peyton devouring a chicken breast during the commercial break, which was exactly the kind of weird insight we want into a public figure who has often tried to keep his private mannerisms just that. Given that Peyton seems to have gone out of his way to correct allowing those moments to happen, it robs the broadcast of those intimate and strange moments that we’ve come to appreciate. If nothing else, the humanity of the Manning brothers, whenever it surfaces, is what makes them so engaging.

The ManningCast Curse, which seemed to be kinda legit, also appears to have scared off active NFL players from appearing on the broadcast. No active players have been guests since the curse claimed Josh Allen in Week 8. While that is (perhaps) understandable, that’s another one of those unknowable joys that the ManningCast created that has been taken away. It was getting really fun to see if it would continue week-to-week. And now…nothing.

This isn’t to say that the broadcast doesn’t still have its moments. One glimpse into what makes the broadcast so fun and unpredictable came late when Joe Buck murdered Peyton with a comment about the time he got blown out in the Super Bowl.

“Joe, when you have a blowout game, do you ever wish you could have a guest on there that you and Troy can interview?” – Peyton

“Yeah you l know the last time I thought about that was when you guys played Seattle in the Super Bowl.” – Joe Buck ?#ManningCast

— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 7, 2021

And there’s still something about seeing Peyton and Eli bounce off one another in that big-brother-little-brother way that makes their on-air pairing so inviting. But it just feels like as the ManningCast has tightened up, figured out how to be a little more “sellable,” and worked out the kinks, it seems to have lost the unique energy that the loose version that was full of kinks had going for it.

Peyton hates TV timeouts, to which Joe Buck says “How can I say I hate TV timeouts, I’m sitting in my house in Cabo. And when you do more TV…you’re gonna love’m too.” #ManningCast

— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 7, 2021

Perhaps this is the way of all things, especially when it comes to NFL broadcasts on ESPN. There are a lot of executive notes to consider. Advertisers need to be appeased (Thanks for your support, Microsoft Surface). Standards and practices must be adhered to. But just like with any TV show or telecast, there’s a special undefinable quality that gets lost when you “grow up” and it feels like that might be happening here.

Perhaps, if they get better games or different kinds of guests, that will change. And maybe they’ll find a way to grow up and also recapture the unpredictable silliness that made ManningCast something so worthy of tuning in for. If nothing else, the Manning brothers know a thing or two about longevity in the game of football. Whether that translates to TV remains to be seen.

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