On any given Sunday… It’s a hoary old adage that’s likely to annoy more than anything if your team is up against the Patriots that week, but there is at least one absolute guarantee for game-day: you will see Peyton Manning in lots and lots of commercials. It’s come to the point where I now associate the two-time Super Bowl winner more with the (various degrees of) clever writing in his endorsements and his “aw-shucks” country-boy delivery than I do with his audibles, short passes, and wise crumplings for a sack against blitzing defenses.
Nothing goes with football like tapenade, right Peyton? My personal favorite of his commercials.
Peyton Manning is the NFL’s greatest shill and he has earned that title with an appetite for spokesmanship, and love of the pitch that is truly peerless in the world of sports at large. At this point, Manning’s earned income from endorsements is comparable to what he’s made playing ball, and with his retirement, I’m sure we’ll see him eclipse that financial seesaw in favor of endorsement earnings in the first few games of the 2017 season. After watching a Nationwide ad, next to a Buick ad, next to a Papa John’s ad, it’s not surprising to learn that Manning is an avowed conservative Republican who has donated plenty of money in the past to Republican candidates, including George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.
To be fair, Manning, like many other football players of note, has dumped a shitload of money into charities. Peyton’s own “PeyBack Foundation” serves underprivileged kids and boasts a hearty lifetime asset distribution of over ten million dollars since 1999. Manning has played his football celebrity to the hilt, stacking obscene amounts of paper in a system favorable to him, and giving a significant chunk of it back. If Ronald Reagan were still president then the elder Manning brother would probably get a medal.
On the other side of the coin is Marshawn Lynch. We all remember the “Beast Mode/Quake” run where Lynch showed how horrific he could be for a defense to handle. After that, all eyes were on Lynch and for good reason. Later when the Seahawks made it to the Superbowl things got a little funny with big bad Marshawn turning into something of a wallflower, not wanting to speak to the media. I love how his teammates try and help out the poor guy, who is obviously suffering from some major anxiety foisted on him in an over-sharing Kardashian media world he didn’t create.
Lynch came back from the embarrassment however, giving a memorable interview with Deion Sanders that may have been short on substance, but was huge on style. The curious public started to get a little better insight into Marshawn’s frame of mind…
“I’m just ‘bout that action, boss. That’s what it is.”
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, Lynch became a certifiable superstar. In the week leading up to the game everybody was talking about the halfback who loves Skittles and hates talking to the media. Naturally, the endorsements were to follow.
Now that Marshawn Lynch was a bankable commodity he had plenty of avenues to capitalize on his success. Advertising for Skittles was a must. Why not? Isn’t that the dream of every kid around the country? To rep hard for their preferred sweet. Flash forward to the 2015 season and we have Lynch profiting on his earlier media silence, and his reputation as being a shy guy, with an, if not funny then at least topical, Pepsi endorsement. I’m sure Peyton Manning believes fervently in the vision and business sense of Papa John’s pizza (he does own 21 of his own franchise locations), but I have a hard time picturing Peyton actually eating that admittedly mediocre fare with the same passion Lynch has for those little fruit-flavored candies.
But Marshawn Lynch has used his public image in some slightly different ways than mere shilling. He’s appeared a couple times on Conan O’Brien’s show to review video games. The most recent installment involved the new “Doom” reboot (feel free to buy it for me), and the first episode co-featured another one of the NFL’s best knuckleheads, Rob Gronkowski. In addition, Lynch has designed hats for New Era Cap and now has his own apparel label, with a flagship brick-and-mortar store in his hometown of Oakland.
So here’s the rub: regardless of what you think about Marshawn Lynch’s skills as a fashion designer, there’s something inherently cooler about what he’s doing as opposed to just putting his face in front of a camera because he’s famous. To be fair to Peyton Manning, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using your celebrity to be in as many commercials as you possibly can, but when was the last time you actually thanked an insurance company for helping you out instead of cursing them for not adequately covering you after you’ve been paying them steadily for years? When was the last time you bought a Papa John’s pizza without feeling shitty about all the things he’s callously said about paying his employees pennies and not providing them health insurance?
I am by no means saying that Marshawn Lynch is a saint. He’s had some sketchy drunk driving incidents in the past, but as both he and Peyton Manning retire, I’m left with two very different and specific impressions: One is the white-guy QB legend who is dogged with questions about sexual impropriety in his college days, and questions of HGH use and further complicated by allegations of journalistic source intimidation. While the other is the eccentric running back who reluctantly became a public figure and used that fame to promote himself humorously, as well as promote his own pet interests.
It’s a question of optics that I think Marshawn Lynch ultimately wins. We’ll be seeing less and less of Lynch over the years, while steadily seeing Peyton (at least) every Sunday ad nauseum. Lynch’s violin plays to the better angels of our long lost punk rock youth, what we valued before the world crushed us. Meanwhile Manning is the establishment: your rich uncle who you secretly can’t stand.