NEW YORK — Peyton Manning looks back at some of the most unforgettable chapters of NFL history in his new ESPN program, and the Washington Redskins and the nation’s capital loom large in a couple of the featured stories.
Manning, a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2021, is hosting and serving as an executive producer for “Peyton’s Places,” a five-part, 30-episode series celebrating the NFL’s 100th season. The show debuts Monday on ESPN+.
For the quarterback, it was a labor of love, a journey into pro football’s past that was educational, humorous and heartfelt.
“NFL Films has been great throughout this and they approached me about doing it to tell the story of the past 100 years,” Manning says. “They certainly had a template and blueprint they wanted to tell, and we had certain people we wanted to talk to and visit and have conversations about how football got started.”
Manning discovered intriguing connections to the NFL for Richard Nixon, Jay Leno and Elvis Presley.
“We got to go down memory lane,” Manning says. “I have always loved the history of the game and I have learned a lot during this journey, and spent some time with some of my favorite players and contemporaries of my dad (former Saints star quarterback Archie Manning) and guys he looked up to.”
Nixon, as Manning discovered, was so annoyed he couldn’t watch the Redskins’ home games from the White House during his 1969-74 administration that he asked NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to lift the league’s blackouts.
“Rozelle refused, saying it would hurt attendance,” Manning says. “So, basically, Nixon got Congress to pass a law to end the blackouts. He called it one of the greatest achievements of his administration, and that shows you how important it was to people who wanted to watch their teams. And still is.”
Along the way, Manning channeled his inner comedian, as displayed in TV commercials and as a host of “Saturday Night Live.”
“I hope people who love football will find it entertaining,” he says. “I certainly have not been afraid to make fun of myself.”
A big fan of Presley, Manning visited Graceland and “may or may not” have dressed up in an Elvis costume. He did discover that Presley staged impromptu games at local parks and was such a die-hard NFL fan he had three television sets on hand so he could watch as much football as possible.
“He got the idea from Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had three TVs so he could watch the news and political news coverage,” Manning explains.
The fun of the series is accompanied by a reverence for the history of his sport. Such highlights as sitting with Roger Staubach and watching the long pass to Drew Pearson that spawned the “Hail Mary” description of such plays.
Or chatting with Jim Brown about his career — in football and lacrosse and acting. Or researching the role of Bert Bell, the league’s second commissioner who created the draft, scheduled games for Sundays — college football, more popular in the those days, owned Saturdays — and insisted on blackouts when television became a factor.
“Bert Bell made a bad investment, putting his money in a pro football team, guys in leather helmets running into each other,” Manning says with a sarcastic laugh. “Bert Bell was a pioneer.”
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