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P. Manning: Commercial success

It's award time, and I know the season hasn't ended yet, but I firmly believe that Peyton Manning is better at what he does than anybody else.

For that matter, I'd say, there's not an athlete in any sport who's his match.

In fact, I think Peyton Manning is the best ever -- any sport, all time.

What's amazing about him, too, is that he's also a pretty darn good quarterback.

But, hey, as a sports guy doing commercials he's in a class by himself.

Manning is so good, he's overexposed, but nobody seems to care. One Web site that picks his top five even refers to the fact that it's out of a hundred thousand Peyton Manning commercials. Certainly seems that way. For openers, he's hustled MasterCard, DirecTV, Oreos, Gatorade, Xbox, Sprint, Sony and Lord knows what else. He works as a single or sometimes as a double, with his baby bother Eli -- who's not half-bad, either. Occasionally his daddy, Archie, and his momma, Olivia, are even part of the act. Most recently, he and Eli have also been using the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, as their straight women. Stand-up or ensemble, always, it's comedy.

In fact, traditionally, at least since 1973, when the Miller Lite Beer campaign started -- "Tastes great! Less filling!" -- humor has been the best way to use athletes to sell a product. And the comedy works best when you go against type -- take a big hero and let him make fun of himself. It's the self-deprecation of the idol that makes him -- and hopefully the product, too -- appealing. A little boy throws a Nerf football further than Manning, and the superstar quarterback points out: "Mine was into the wind."

But while all sorts of athletes have let themselves be laughed at in commercials, what sets Manning apart is, first and foremost, his deadpan expression. The guy is Buster Keaton in shoulder pads. Sure, Tom Brady is better looking, but he's just another pretty face. Manning's countenance is, to borrow a word from one of his products: priceless. Here, for the very first time is that Peyton Manning deadpan expression in print:

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See, what did I tell you? Manning also possesses excellent timing, which is the sort of thing in comedy which is hardest to learn. Maybe he picked that up calling signals, checking off at the line of scrimmage, getting the play off just in time. And so, while the NFL regular season isn't even finished yet, and it's weeks away until the Super Bowl, this is a different time of year -- 'tis the season to be jolly, so forget the quarterback, No. 18, and let us raise our egg nog to the number-one pitchman in the game. Joy to the world.

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