For most of his career, Peyton Manning had always been considered the dorkier half of the superstar quarterback Manning–Tom Brady rivalry; in the popular sports consciousness, Manning is the nerd with his face in a playbook while Brady is off schtupping a supermodel or out posing with a goat. But then Peyton Manning hosted Saturday Night Live.
Manning, perhaps because of his abundant, almost irritating appearances in commercials, was at ease, comfortable, and undeniably funny, not just in the monologue but in his still-beloved “United Way” digital short.
As for Brady: Brady looked like the dumb jock he really is, most notably in this awful “Tom Brady’s Falafel City” skit. (Manning even made fun of Brady during the taping.) It turned out that Peyton Manning was apparently sneaking in Bill Murray movies while watching game film; Brady must have been too busy practicing Football Night on NBC faces. It changed how fans saw Peyton: He just seemed a little less lame after SNL, a little less of a yokel.
So it’s no surprise that little brother Eli Manning is gonna give it a shot on May 5. If there’s anyone who could use a shot of “Wait, does this guy have a sense of humor, or is he just sort of a slack jaw?” it’s Eli. For crying out loud, look at his photo shoots. (Any of them.)
There’s little reason to think Eli will be particularly skilled at this. His Toyota commercials are not exactly examples of a stirring, riveting screen presence.
This is especially true when you see him actually working with Peyton, who’s obviously more relaxed and casual about being on-camera.
But maybe Manning will surprise us. For a while it didn’t look like he was gonna be much of a quarterback either, and now he has more rings than his brother and has beaten Brady in the Super Bowl twice. And he has to be better than Brady, if just because it’ll be naturally easier for him to make fun of himself than it was Brady, who didn’t seem self-aware enough to even think he would need parodying. Manning can play up the little brother jokes, the silly magazine cover jokes, and it’s okay, because we like that he’s aware of it and, by the way, he has won two Super Bowls now. The joke is not going to be on Eli. It was on Brady.
And maybe Eli wants to even one-up his brother again, this time on the SNL stage. Eli has spent his entire life being known as Peyton’s little brother, and this could be a way to take back a little more control and independence … as if two Super Bowl wins couldn’t do that already. Or maybe Eli doesn’t have to worry about impressing anybody — his brother or otherwise — anymore. Maybe he just thinks he’ll be funny. Maybe he just wants to hang out with Stefan.