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+.
The second season of Peyton’s Places is in full swing and it follows the NFL great around the country as he explores the history of the National Football League, one piece at a time. The sixth episode is a little different, as Peyton’s guest is not an NFL player, but rather legendary talkshow host David Letterman.
The episode opens with a typical Peyton Manning gag. Peyton and Letterman sit on a bench at Ball State University, Letterman’s alma mater. Peyton explains his difficulties with retirement and asks Letterman how he’s been getting through it. The camera then reveals Manning is wearing a fake beard as Letterman explains that the facial hair is what’s getting him through his retirement. This gag perfectly sets the tone for what this whole episode is.
Peyton gives some history on Letterman as an Indiana native, which explains their relationship given that Peyton played a long time for the Indianapolis Colts. We get a montage of Letterman’s career hosting The Late Show, including a couple of interviews with Peyton himself. It’s a lot of fun going back and seeing the beginning of their relationship as well as just old clips from Letterman’s career.
We then get some history on the Colts, highlighting the franchise leaving the city of Baltimore to move to Indianapolis. Letterman recalls the team cycling through quarterbacks until finally landing Peyton Manning who changed the franchise.
Peyton and Letterman then explore the campus of Ball State for a football tradition. Letterman introduces Peyton to the “frog baby,” a statue in the middle of a fountain which they dress with a football jersey before every game. Peyton presents Letterman with a #500 Colts jersey, in celebration of his team’s Indianapolis 500 win, to put on the statue. In probably the only joke that misses in the whole episode, the pair gets a random student passing by to walk into the fountain and put the jersey on the “frog baby.” It feels as though they are building to a surprise guest to be given the task, but it ends up being a student that will leave you wondering if you’re supposed to know who they are.
We then get into the real topic of the episode, which is Letterman attempting to change rules in the NFL. The concept is introduced with old clips from his show in which he questioned NFL rules with guest and former Colts player Art Donovan.
Letterman pitches some new changes to the game of football, including changing the field itself. This is where the episode really starts to lean into the humor as Letterman introduces Peyton to some very unique ideas for football fields. Personally, I’m open to some of his ideas, but I don’t see the NFL adopting these changes any time soon.
That leads to a conversation about rules that have been named after the players who forced those rules to be made. For example, Lester Hayes would cover himself in so much Stickum to help him catch the ball, the league had to introduce a “no foreign substances” rule. This episode focuses much more on humor, so this is the little bit of NFL history we really get this week. Still, it’s a fascinating look at the game’s history.
We then get back into Letterman’s history, starting with some footage of him as a weatherman before his career in entertainment really got started. Letterman tells a story about being a reporter for the Indy 500 when sportscaster Jim McKay introduced him by the wrong name on the broadcast.
Peyton recalls being a part of Letterman’s final show on The Late Show, during which Letterman’s 10 favorite guests were brought back. Manning recalls a lineup that included Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bill Murray and many others. He explains that, while they were still backstage, Martin asked Peyton to switch jokes with him because he liked his more. Peyton tells Letterman his response was “absolutely not, if Martin wants my joke, I’m keeping it.” This is one of the moments that makes this episode so different from just about every other previous one.
The two really get down to business when they head over to Ball State’s football stadium to start trying to change the game of football. They meet with coach Mike Neu and the University’s football team to put some of Dave’s new rule changes into action. Peyton and Letterman surprise the team on the field.
They then take their seats in the bleachers and use a bull horn to relay these ridiculous new rules to the players on the field so they can play them out. Some of these new rules include the quarterback having the throw the ball with his opposite hand, the goalposts being raised by five feet every quarter, a mascot fight to determine who gets the ball, and more outlandish things of that nature.
Watching the players try to put these new rules into action is one of the funniest and most entertaining sequences in the show’s history. Peyton and Letterman only make the whole experience even better with their hilarious commentary.
As the episode wraps up, Letterman expresses embarrassment because the stadium hasn’t been named after him yet. During the credits, Peyton does unveil an equipment shed that’s been named after Letterman, which he does not appreciate. We also get to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell being presented with the “Letterman Rules,” in one final hilarious segment, even if Goodell isn’t much of an actor.
This might just be the best episode of Peyton’s Places yet. It doesn’t exactly follow the model of previous episodes, as it obviously leans much more heavily on humor than NFL history, but really hits on that humor. If you want to see more classic football highlights and hear stories from NFL greats, check out any of the other episodes. But if you just want some ridiculous fun in and around the world of football, I can’t recommend this one enough.
Peyton’s Places is available now on ESPN+. Fans can subscribe to ESPN+ for just $5.99 a month and can cancel at any time.