REGGIE HAYES: Of course we want Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football

Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning speaks during his jersey retirement ceremony at the Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers game Oct. 8 in Indianapolis. (Photo by the Associated Press)

Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning speaks during his jersey retirement ceremony at the Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers game Oct. 8 in Indianapolis. (Photo by the Associated Press)

The Oakland Raiders’ hiring of Jon Gruden as their head coach produced a common question: Can Peyton Manning take Gruden’s spot in the Monday Night Football booth?

I’d tune in to watch that MNF crew, no matter what teams are on the field.

Manning spent this season, his second since retiring after his NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, being a husband and father. In his free time, he continued to push pizza and insurance during TV commercials, although not simultaneously.

While Manning appears to be more interested in NFL ownership or a front office role than in joining ESPN, his many fans would most enjoy it if he were to step into Gruden’s television shoes.

During his time with ESPN’s broadcast and game previews, Gruden provided insight only a former coach with a passion for film study could provide. His “Gruden’s QB Camp” shows with college quarterbacks preparing for the NFL Draft revealed the best of what he could do, mixing knowledge with humor and personality.

Manning would bring a similar set of attributes, only from the perspective of a former player, Super Bowl champ and record-setter.

Sports Illustrated shared an anecdote about Gruden and Manning in a current story about Gruden leaving the broadcast booth. It showed Manning’s respect for Gruden, as well as Gruden’s enthusiasm for doing his best in the broadcast booth.

The SI passage:

When the crew visited Indianapolis over the years, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning made a habit of inviting Gruden to his condo in the city to study film, sometimes for six hours at a time. “That wasn’t Jon asking Peyton to sit down and study,” (MNF producer Jay) Rothman said. “That was Peyton wanting to pick Jon’s brain.”

NFL games revolve around the quarterback, which is why so many analysts, such as Troy Aikman and Tony Romo, are drawn from the former quarterback ranks.

Who would be better qualified to deliver insight than Manning? List the best quarterbacks of the last 20 years and Manning’s name will be there. Even if he’s not No. 1 on the list, his dual understanding of the game of football and the needs of a media broadcast make him the perfect person to step into the booth in Gruden’s place.

Manning was always media savvy. He offered insightful comments that felt like insider information without crossing the line of revealing too much. He knew when to keep it lighthearted and when to be dead serious. After late-night games – wins or losses – Manning would meet with the media while still wearing his uniform. He knew the reporters were up against deadlines. He always saw the game from all its many sides.

Two years away from the NFL has allowed Manning to distance himself more from the players, and would allow him a better vantage point for the analysis and sometimes criticism required of a game analyst.

Whether Manning wants to be in the MNF booth remains to be seen. There were plenty of reports that he turned down television offers a year ago.

If Manning’s burning desire is to be a team president or general manager, sitting in the broadcast booth and talking – no matter how interesting the conversation – won’t provide the competitive challenge he wants for the second half of his professional life.

But what about MNF as a temporary gig? Might he consider it as a short-term option?

There’s little doubt Manning would thrive at the microphone. He has the stories. He has the insight. Thanks to his commercials, he already has a persona viewers will recognize.

It’s been a long time since viewers tuned into Monday Night Football specifically to hear what the broadcast crew had to say. Gruden sparked that a bit. Manning would take it to a new level.

He wouldn’t be Howard Cosell or even Jon Gruden. He’d be Peyton Manning, and people are inclined to listen to Peyton Manning, no matter what he’s selling.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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