Peyton Manning on the “Late Show” finale. (CBS)
By Peyton Manning
NEW YORK — I’ve been a part of some pretty special things and have had some great moments in my life. But for so many reasons, standing in the Ed Sullivan Theater on Wednesday night and being part of the 6,028th and final Late Show with David Letterman, well, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.
I love David Letterman. Always have. I consider myself a Letterman guy, because I’ve never done any other late-night show but his. I’ve been a big fan of comedy my whole life, and when I watch him, I’ve just always felt that he hits the right note—all the time. He sure has been a big part of my life.
So to be asked to be a part of the final Top 10 List, and to do it with Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Barbara Walters, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Bill Murray—what an incredible honor. I’m standing in that line, getting ready to do the segment, and I look around at these people and think, Am I a stand-in for Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks? Am I here only because they couldn’t make it?
The Top 10 List was, “Things I’ve always wanted to say to Dave.” I was number three, and the writers wrote me a good line.
Before the “Late Show” finale, Cooper Manning sat behind Letterman’s desk for a picture with his younger brother. (Courtesy photo)
I said, “Dave, you are to comedy what I am … to comedy.”
After that, I slipped into the back of the theater to watch the rest of the show. Being a high school and college player for eight years, then an NFL player for 18 years, I really appreciated Dave spending the time to thank all the people who worked on the show behind the scenes. The writers, all the people on the set, the makeup people, everybody. It’s just like in the NFL, where your equipment guys and your trainers and so many people are crucial to your success.
Standing there watching the end, it just felt like I was watching a part of history, something really important.
It’s funny, but my favorite memory of Dave—and what I think says so much about him as a person—didn’t come from one of my appearances on the show. (I was on four times as a guest, and then again on Wednesday’s finale.) It came soon after I signed with the Broncos—actually, on the day before the draft in 2012, when the Colts were sitting there with the first pick.
That day, I was working out at the Broncos’ facility, trying to get used to my new world and learn Denver’s offense. I got word that Dave was trying to reach me, and so I get on the phone with him. He explains that they’re going to have Andrew Luck on the show, and what they want to do is present him with his new Colts jersey, like they’d be the ones telling him he was a Colt.
He said to me, “I don’t want to do it if it makes you uncomfortable at all.”
I said, “Dave, it doesn’t matter what I think. You do what you feel is best for the show.”
Really, I didn’t care. Whatever Dave wanted to do was fine, but he said, “That’s it! We’re not doing it. Forget it. It’s done.”
That meant so much to me. I didn’t give him an answer. It wasn’t my place to say anything. But the fact that he made that call, I can tell you this: If that were any other show, they sure wouldn’t have called to ask what I thought.
Manning’s first appearance on the “Late Show”.
Being on Letterman, you always wanted to bring something to the table. The first time I went on, it was two days before the Heisman presentation during my senior year at Tennessee. That’s 1997. I was in New York and got asked, and it was a thrill. I was on with Courteney Cox and Shania Twain. My brother, Cooper, who is one of the funniest people I know, helped me prepare for the show. They do these pre-interviews, talking to you before you go on the air about stuff you could talk about during the interview. They were curious about my decision to stay for my final season of eligibility at Tennessee. So I talked to Cooper, and he came up with a good line for me. Sure enough, Dave asked me about it, and I said, “Dave, it’s just like when you stayed for your senior year at Ball State.”
After I cracked another joke, Dave said, “This kid’s got writers!”
I got asked to do the show again in 2006, when we threw footballs into the windows of moving yellow cabs on the street outside the Ed Sullivan Theater. And I got asked again in 2007 after we won the Super Bowl. Then, last spring, I went to New York to see Derek Jeter play one last time, and I went on with Dave once more. I wrote him a letter. I told him, “Thanks for entertaining me and my family and my parents for so long.” He wrote back and signed it, “Your friend, Dave.” That’ll be a lifetime keepsake.
I think one of the big reasons I was asked to be on The Late Show finale was because of our Indianapolis connection. Dave has an appreciation for anyone who has done things to help his hometown. During my appearance on the show last year, it really meant a lot that he thanked me for some of the things that I had done as a Hoosier over the years, on and off the field.
When we finished the Top 10 list on Wednesday, Dave thanked the 10 of us for coming. I just thought, I’m the one who should be thanking him, for all the years of great TV and great comedy. We just shouldn’t let this moment pass without being thankful for everything we’ve seen from him over the years. I’m really going to miss him—and the show.
Even though he won’t be doing the “Late Show” anymore, I’ll always be a Letterman guy.
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