On March 24, 2007, on his 31st birthday, Peyton Manning hosted Saturday Night Live. No one knew what to expect. Manning had shown a lighter side in several talk show appearances and displayed some decent acting chops in a “This Is SportsCenter” commercial, but hosting a variety show was a different animal.
His monologue that night wasn’t strong, and the opening sketch was considered by many to be “the worst of the season.” But Manning found his sweet spot in a fake commercial for United Way, arguably the best segment by an athlete-host in the show’s history. You’ve likely seen the clip before.
From a comedy standpoint, it was perfect. It hit all the right notes. Even the closing line, “The NFL and United Way urge you to spend time with your kids, so Peyton Manning doesn’t,” was on point. It was a beautifully done parody.
In a 2013 interview with Sports Seer, Manning shared an amusing anecdote about his treatment of children in the sketch:
The one that people always talk about is the United Way skit, where I’m throwing the football at the kids. A lot of people have asked “Peyton, please tell me you weren’t really hurting those kids.” And I promise you folks, that was a Nerf football … and all these kids, they were all child actors which is a kind of disturbing field in its own way. And all the parents were there the entire time when we were doing that skit and the director said ‘You gotta hit them in the face, you gotta do it.’ And I had to have a little talk with myself before I could do it.
But I felt a little more comfortable when I heard one of the parents yelling at the director ‘I want him to hit my kid in the face!’”
The March 24 episode with Manning as host proved to be popular with viewers, garnering SNL‘s best ratings in 10 months. Moreover, the United Way sketch propelled Manning into a pop culture icon of sorts. Since then, he’s appeared in a number of spots, including several digital shorts with his brother, Eli. And who could forget “cut that meat!”
In short, Peyton telling a bunch of kids “you suck” made him the star he is today.