TV Review – “Peyton’s Places: The Birth of the Ball” on ESPN+

Peyton Manning is one of the greatest and most famous football players of all-time. He has hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared in countless commercials and, oh yeah, won a couple of Super Bowls. Now, he’s hosting his own series on ESPN+.

Peyton’s Places follows the NFL great around the country as he explores the history of the National Football League, one piece at a time. The 12th episode, titled “The Birth of the Ball,” features Peyton looking into the history of the piece of equipment that he made a career out of throwing around a field.

The episode starts out with Peyton playing catch with his longtime teammate Brandon Stokley (who, as a Bengals fan, I was not happy to see. But I won’t get into that). They weren’t using a ball though. No, instead they were playing catch with a watermelon.

It was an opening that was certainly intriguing and had me wanting to know more. Then they jumped to a segment about the only left-handed hall of fame quarterback, Steve Young. This segment was interesting and I enjoyed the conversation about Young’s incredible career and the differences of being a lefty quarterback and all, but I just wanted to know what it all had to do with a watermelon.

The segment finished with an explanation that was essentially just “left-handed quarterbacks are weird and so is playing catch with a watermelon.” I’m paraphrasing there, but it was that loose of a connection. It felt like they had shot an interview with Young and needed a spot where they could shoehorn it in. It was still entertaining though.

We then return to the field with Peyton and Stokley. Here, Manning takes us through the history of the football and how the game has evolved from being “three yards and a cloud of dust” to the game we know and love today. It was pretty cool seeing the different variations of the ball and another entertaining segment. By the way, we learn here that the first ball was called the melon ball and that’s why they were playing catch with a watermelon. Still has nothing to do with left-handed quarterbacks.

Finally, we get to a segment in which Peyton visit’s a Wilson factory where NFL footballs are made and watch him work at each spot in the assembly line. It’s essentially a condensed and more entertaining version of How It’s Made, with a bunch of Dad jokes from Peyton Manning.

Peyton’s Places continues to be a fun watch for football fans or those or are at least mildly interested in the history of sports. Peyton is entertaining, corny as he is at times, and his unrivaled knowledge of the game makes him the perfect host for a series like this.

The first 12 episodes of Peyton’s Places are available now on ESPN+. Fans can subscribe to ESPN+ for just $4.99 a month (or $49.99 per year) and can cancel at any time.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."