Even in retirement, Peyton Manning, who led the Denver Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50 earlier this year, remains controversial in some quarters owing to accusations of inappropriate behavior and bullying during his college years and a report (which he denies) that he used human growth hormones during his recovery from 2011 neck surgeries.
But when it comes to nurturing his public image, there's no denying that he's an absolute genius.
The latest evidence of his mastery came during last night's ESPY awards, an annual production of ESPN.
Manning was the only member of the Broncos' Super Bowl squad to take home an award. (The team lost to the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and still-unsigned-to-a-new-contract-at-this-writing Super Bowl MVP Von Miller was bested in the Best Championship Performance category by the Cavs' LeBron James.) Moreover, a satirical video in which Peyton was portrayed as being an asshole somehow made him seem funnier and more self-effacing than ever.
There were plenty of Peyton references throughout the night. In his opening monologue, host John Cena, of pro-wrestling (and Trainwreck) fame, joked that Manning's last game with the Broncos and basketballer Kobe Bryant's final contest for the Los Angeles Lakers before calling it quits had something in common: "almost no passing." And Manning joined Bryant and soccer icon Abby Wambach to accept ICON awards from Justin Timberlake — and while a lot of the footage shown in the Peyton segment dated back to his days with the Indianapolis Colts, his amazing comeback with the Broncos also received its just due.
Still, the Manning-related highlight was a spoof of "Dear Peyton," a Gatorade spot released in April that featured people in Manning's life, including former Broncos teammate Demaryius Thomas, reading excerpts from exceedingly kind letters he had written to them over the years. These missives prompted them to add their own gratitude to him against a nostalgic backdrop that sported images aplenty from Denver.
The Peyton portrayed in the ESPY clip is far less gentlemanly. Among the highlights:
Eli Manning claims that Manning e-mails and texts him repeatedly to boast that he now has as many Super Bowl titles as his little brother, who quarterbacks the New York Giants.
Archie Manning reads correspondence from Peyton that begins, "Dear Dad. Stop telling the media that you love all your children equally. It's embarrassing. No one is buying it."
Derek Jeter receives an item that congratulates him on his outstanding career and then invites him to dinner at Red Lobster — a location chosen because Peyton has a Groupon "where $40 gets you $80 worth of scampi."
Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers is offered a moneymaking opportunity that "is definitely not a pyramid scheme."
Tom Brady is told, "I think of you as a brother: a brother who lost to my other brother all the time" — a line that prompts Brady to spit out an expletive that has to be bleeped.
Most amusing of all, though, is this note to Cooper Manning, Peyton's least-known brother: "Man, I think it sucks that people forget you exist, Cooper. You are as important a member of the Manning family as any of us. P.S.: I need your kidney."
Yes, Manning's skills were severely diminished by the end of his run with the Broncos. But with Denver now looking at starting the season with either butt-fumbler Mark Sanchez or untested rookie Paxton Lynch under center, we can't help missing Peyton — or at least his incredible public persona.
Here's the ESPY video, followed by "Dear Peyton."
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