What are the large, reckless things we like to say about Peyton Manning? Smartest quarterback of all time, best offense coordinator the Colts have ever had, his mom did his laundry all through college. Though inaccurate in most academic discussions, we label Manning as Type A to the max for simplicity of conversation. We watch him under center and realize before one snap he has processed more plays and outcomes to those plays than any of us could do in a whole game of Madden while sitting comfortably on a potato chip and soda stained couch.
What is truly amazing, then, is the interview Trey Wingo conducted with Manning for ESPN on Tuesday. After missing all of this season with a neck injury and now the rumor mill running on blast about trades, Wingo had a fraternal discussion with the Colts quarterback about his future. Wingo peppered the talk with a few softballs, and in general didn’t really pressure Manning too much, but just over midway through the interview something amazing happened.
Manning can talk; he’s always been a gift to interviewers. He begins this session just fine, if not rambling a little. Maybe he’s a little too eager in answering the early questions – the smile affixed to his bobbing head – chuckles confidently, deflects initial serious questions with the smooth, slowed down then sped up cadence of a politician, but he seems “okay.” Then he starts talking about buying tickets for people, reaches to extend a list of players he’s helped get tickets. It doesn’t not make sense, but there is a part of you wondering what he is talking about. And a minute later you realize you are no longer watching an interview but a commercial for Gatorade. “That’s why we’re here now, really, is to talk about Gatorade,” says Manning.
This is when the most amazing needle scratch sound effect is to be heard, and everyone’s heads tilt in disbelief, and we come back to reality.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. Manning goes on shilling for Gatorade and evading any actual conversation. Though what is unique here is this doesn’t feel like a normal product placement. Ignore with me, just for this moment, the wall of Gatorade behind Manning. In a world where the satirical Wayne’s World scene where Wayne and Garth are fully kitted in brand names has become a reality, this brand mentioning from Manning is more unhinged. It is not a stroke job for his sponsors, but possibly him simply cracking from all the inane talk he has faced in the past month. For the first time in recent memory, Manning doesn’t actually seem to know what he is saying.
Watson, the super computer of Jeopardy fame, is a good comparison for Manning: the ability to process an incredible amount of data in very little time, the straight man personality with surprising bursts of personality, the square-ish build. And the painful Gatorade ramble he gives us is akin to Watson misfiring and scavenging its immense database for anything that resembles a modern sentence, throwing out words that feel comfortable: “working hard,” “I can’t predict that,” “Gatorade.”