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Peyton Manning’s ESPN+ show brings out NFL’s goofy side


The helicopter hovered high above an X within the parking zone of Arrowhead Stadium before releasing its payload of 10,000 Superballs. The hard-rubber orbs hit the bottom and rose in unison, like a swarm of locusts, before ping-ponging off in every direction on their second bounce.

With 10 NFL Movies cameras capturing the stunt from every conceivable angle, Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes — standing together about 100 yards from the impact zone — instinctively dropped into position as if taking dueling shotgun snaps and attempted to field the Superball tsunami headed their way.

“It was even crazier than I believed,” said Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback with the hands of a serious league shortstop. “It was a cool experience, and I got to do it with a Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning. Those balls surprised me. I believed they could hurt somewhat bit, however it worked out well.”

Welcome to Season 3 of “Peyton’s Places,” the ESPN+ show that began as a one-off option to honor the NFL’s a centesimal season but has morphed right into a way for Manning to inform the obscure, curious and sometimes downright goofy stories concerning the game he loves.

This episode, the season finale shot last week, explores the origins of the term “Super Bowl,” coined by legendary Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who essentially followed the bouncing ball. Figuring “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” was an excessive amount of of a mouthful, he suggested a spin on the Superball, a well-liked toy on the time.

Hundreds of Superballs rain down on Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes through the shooting of a “Peyton’s Places” episode within the parking zone of Arrowhead Stadium.

(NFL Movies)

Dropping the barrel stuffed with Superballs was the concept of show runner Neil Zender, who first approached the toy manufacturer about making one giant ball to drop.

“They got here to me and said, `Hey, we heard about this stunt where any person dropped an eight-foot-diameter ball from a hotel onto a automotive. We would like to do one which’s 10 feet in diameter,’ ” said Wham-O president Todd Richards, whose company is predicated in Carson. “I said that was going to weigh about 10,000 kilos.”

That concept was scrubbed in favor of 10,000 Superballs, some red and others black, bearing the brand of Super Bowl IV, which the Chiefs won, 23-7, against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Peyton’s Places” is an ideal canvas for the irreverent Manning, who avoided the normal path from field to broadcast booth and as an alternative has focused on telling sports stories otherwise.

“People don’t need to see one other sit-down interview,” he said. “It’s been done before. Frankly, it gets boring. So we thought we would have liked to do it otherwise to make it unique and make it fun.”

Peyton Manning, right, and former Colts teammate Jeff Saturday race one another in helmet-shaped carts.

Peyton Manning, right, and former Colts teammate Jeff Saturday race each other in helmet-shaped carts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

(NFL Movies)

That features racing former teammate Jeff Saturday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in carts shaped like NFL helmets, heaving a football off a balcony of a Manhattan skyscraper to Cris Carter below, and along together with his younger brother, Eli, and Jerome Bettis, dressing up like Ghostbusters to hunt the spirit of a Notre Dame legend.

“Peyton’s Places” is a component football, part fever dream. And like those Superballs, the concept has careened in all forms of unexpected directions.

Under the umbrella of Manning’s “Omaha Productions” — a reference to the quarterback’s most famous audible — the franchise has expanded to incorporate “Eli’s Places” (college football), “Abby’s Places” (Abby Wambach on soccer), “Rowdy’s Places” (Ronda Rousey on competitive fighting), “Big Papi’s Places” (David Ortiz on baseball), “Vince’s Places” (Vince Carter on basketball) and “McEnroe’s Places” (John McEnroe on tennis).

“The important thing ingredient of all of it’s the host must be any person that has walked the walk.”

— Peyton Manning

Singer Luke Bryan is doing one on country music, and talks are underway with LL Cool J about telling the story of hip-hop.

“The important thing ingredient of all of it’s the host must be any person that has walked the walk,” Manning said. “There’s certain things that an ex-player goes to say to any person that has been in the identical arena, simply because they will speak the identical language. That’s what’s made it unique.”

The NFL Movies crew moves at hyper-speed, like a NASCAR pit crew, with the operating principle of, “We wait on the talent, the talent never waits on us.”

Peyton Manning visits Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead Stadium for an episode of

Peyton Manning visits Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead Stadium for an episode of “Peyton’s Places.”

(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

Manning prides himself in arriving fully prepared, together with his lines down cold, so he quickly can nail each scene, sometimes in a single take. It’s a highly choreographed operation, a no-nonsense collection of 53 people zipping around in golf carts and as serious of their tasks because the show is silly.

“Peyton is precise,” director Matt Dissinger said. “He respects the undeniable fact that we’ve got our you-know-what together, because he has his together. And he’ll voice his gratitude for that.”

The three hours at Arrowhead included the ball drop within the parking zone, Manning and Mahomes playing catch by bouncing a Superball over a statue of the late Hunt, ricocheting one off the partitions of a tunnel to the sector, and recreating a Christmas morning scene — the show will air over the vacations — within the unbelievable owner’s suite. It’s a beautifully appointed apartment overlooking the 50-yard line, complete with a front room, fireplace, and sweeping staircase resulting in upstairs bedrooms.

Clark Hunt talks to Peyton Manning, both in ugly Christmas sweaters, during a filming inside the in-stadium apartment.

Clark Hunt talks to Peyton Manning while filming a Christmas scene contained in the Chiefs owner’s in-stadium apartment.

(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

On a day when the warmth outside was climbing to sweltering, the players wriggled into ugly Christmas sweaters for the scene, with Manning “repping” his Denver Broncos and Mahomes the Chiefs. Clark Hunt, who now owns the Chiefs, likewise donned a team sweater to elaborate on his dad’s role in naming the Super Bowl.

“Peyton’s any person that you’re feeling really comfortable around once you’re working with him,” Hunt said. “That’s great, particularly for us novices who aren’t used to doing scripted work like that.”

Hunt loves seeing the rival quarterback and five-time NFL most beneficial player in front of the camera. Beats seeing him behind a middle.

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