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David Ramsey: America turns its lonely eyes to Peyton Manning, who must return to NFL as TV color commentator

February 19, 2018 Updated: February 19, 2018 at 2:53 pm
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Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning celebrates running back Knowshon Moreno's first quarter touchdown putting Denver up 7-0 over the Chiefs Sunday, December 30, 2012 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Open the bank vault, please. We need Peyton Manning in a TV booth for the 2018 season.

Manning can use humor and football’s most beautiful mind to brighten our Thursday or Monday nights and slow, and maybe even halt, the NFL’s steady loss of TV viewers.

ESPN is chasing Manning to serve as color man for Monday Night Football, and Fox is on the same chase for Thursday Night Football.

I’m hoping, along with a millions of my Fellow Americans, that one of the networks persuades Manning to step into a broadcast booth. It’s an ultra-sweet gig. Jon Gruden, merely OK as Monday Night Football’s color man, earned $6.5 million a season before returning to coach the Raiders.

Manning towers as the dream candidate. He would bring the laughs of a Tony Kornheiser, the probing insight of a Dan Fouts and the work ethic of, well, a Manning to the booth.

We, as TV viewers, need him. And the NFL, with sagging ratings and draining image issues, requires him.

According to expert number cruncher Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, the number of viewers for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ESPN’s Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football package declined this season. NBC averaged 18.2 viewers, lowest since 2008. Monday Night Football’s ratings were the lowest ever. Ad Age’s Anthony Crup estimates overall NFL viewership fell 9 percent.

Why the plunge?

Millions of Americans have pulled the plug on cable, which helps their bottom line but limits easy access to the NFL. The Cowboys, the NFL’s No. 1 TV draw, were lousy in 2017. The Giants, another big draw, were awful. Aaron Rodgers was injured. Americans have a growing awareness of our savage game’s toll on brains.

And, yes, kneeling by protesting players during our National Anthem chased viewers, too.

Manning’s return will not end the NFL’s woes, but his return will ease many of them. Few American sports superstars are truly beloved. Manning is one of the few.

Years ago, I was sitting in a café a few dozen yards from Pacific Beach the morning of a San Diego State-Air Force football game. A group from Wisconsin at the next table noticed the exotic preparation of my breakfast.

We started talking. I asked why they were visiting San Diego. The water, they said. The sunshine. The zoo.

But mostly they made the trip to watch Manning, then with the Colts, do battle against the Chargers, who should have forever remained in San Diego.

The visitors were not Colts fans. They were devout Manning followers, traveling to two or three games each season to see him play. The friends teased one of the women at their table.

“She’s in love with Peyton,” one said.

The woman blushed, and her eyes revealed the truth.

She did love Peyton.

She’s not alone. Manning, through natural charisma and an expert, calculated campaign, has overwhelmed America with his accurate right arm, old-school southern manners and refusal to surrender after NFL marauders all but destroyed his neck. We admire his taste in sport coats and his ability to thread a 30-yard pass past the hands of three defenders.

Not much in life is a sure thing. Manning working as a color commentator is a sure thing.

If Manning offers his expertise on a football game, hundreds of thousands – and maybe a few million – casual fans will click on their TVs.  

He’s been hesitant to make the jump from field to TV booth. If Manning said yes to TV, he would bury himself in every detail, preparing with the same ruthless diligence he embraced as a player. He faces a conflict, one faced by every parent. Manning wants to spend weekends with his twins, who turn 7 in March.

Fox and ESPN will turn to cash, and a lot of it, to tempt him. A source told the New York Post ESPN planned to “back up” a truck filled with money to lure Manning.

An offer of, say, $12 million per season could persuade Manning to become football’s premier color commentator. Remember, this is a task that never will require him to endure the fast-moving wrath of a blitzing linebacker.

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