One of the biggest sports media stories of 2021 has been the ManningCast, ESPN2’s special broadcast of Monday Night Football featuring Peyton and Eli Manning. The brothers cover the game, chat with special guests, and get up to all kinds of wacky hijinks.
A major hit on social media, the ManningCast has also been slowly growing its overall audience as well with each iteration. It’s the kind of approach to game-viewing that many other leagues and networks are bound to try and emulate (with likely diminishing returns).
While it’s a novel idea, the alternative broadcast option certainly isn’t a new one. And according to Cris Collinsworth, it’s something that NBC was hoping to do way back around 2006.
Collinsworth, who currently works as an NFL analyst for NBC, Showtime, and the NFL Network, recently appeared on the Just Getting Started with Rich Eisen podcast. During the chat, he brought up the time he almost ended up doing play-by-play as part of a ManningCast-style broadcast alongside John Madden for Sunday Night Football and why it just didn’t work.
“There was a time when [NBC] wanted John Madden to do the games and I’m in the studio and they always sort of had this dream of two analysts doing the games. So, I would sort of do the play-by-play and John would be the caller, but it would be much more of a conversation about football than, like, a traditional broadcast. Sorta like Peyton and Eli, I guess, right now. Everybody’s trying to reinvent the wheel.
“So they fly a friggin’ jumbo jet 747, with two bedrooms in this friggin’ thing, across the country. They take the whole NBC Sports team to John Madden’s studios…We go in to do this game. I’m doing the play-by-play. I’m sort of like ‘how hard can it be?’ I started doing some practice games before that. So they put a microphone on me and…Merril Hoge came and they would record them and we would call the games.
“I couldn’t undo what I had learned to do my whole life. When I broadcast the game, I don’t watch the football. A lot of times, I lose where it is. Because I think Al’s job is to tell you what’s happening to the football and my job is to tell you something you didn’t see…So when I’m trying to do play-by-play, now I’ve got to watch the football. And I didn’t really know just getting on-the-air…that’s a lot harder than you think it is. Just opening your show every week.”
As Collinsworth continues to explain, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, told him that “if you want this job, it’s yours. But, I have a chance now to get Al Michaels.” Collinsworth thought the idea of taking the gig over Michaels was “crazy” and he stepped out of the way so NBC could hire Michaels to work with Madden instead.
Michaels and Madden called Sunday Night Football from 2006-2009 while Collinsworth worked as a studio analyst. In 2009, Collinsworth replaced Madden in the booth when the NFL broadcasting legend retired.
While the broadcast that Collinsworth describes certainly sounds closer to the traditional one we’re used to hearing on network television, it does sound like it included the kernels of the alternative broadcasting options that were to come.