Here's a key matchup: QB vs. 'MNF'


Personal Assistant
Bob Kravitz
Here's a key matchup: QB vs. 'MNF'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Now we're having some fun. You thought the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars were the most intriguing matchup of Monday night? Guess again.
In this corner, Peyton Manning, one of the two best quarterbacks in the game today, eventual owner of every passing record known to humankind and part-time TV pitchman.
In the other corner, Tony "Mr. Tony" Kornheiser, former columnist-turned-radio-guy-turned-TV-mensch, a man known for his rapier wit and creepy orange hue, which makes him popular and enormously useful at Halloween.
First, some background:
On Thursday at the Colts facility, reporters were having their usual conversation with Manning when he casually said that "Monday Night Football" "isn't what it used to be.'' At that point, one of the pointy-headed journalists (myself included) should have asked the obvious follow-up question: "Um, why do you say that?''
Anyway, Saturday morning before the Indiana University-Penn State game, I came across Manning's quote on my tape recorder, and finally thought, "Hmmm, I wonder what he meant by that?''
I called Craig Kelley, the Colts' spokesman, and asked if he could check with Peyton. Was Manning saying that "MNF" had lost its luster because of the proliferation of non-Sunday-afternoon games, that it was not quite the novelty we remember as kids when "MNF" was to Mondays what "Saturday Night Live'' was to Saturdays? Or, was he taking a semi-veiled shot at the broadcasters, or, um, one of the broadcasters?
Kelley called back about 90 minutes later to say he talked to Manning, and all Peyton meant was that "MNF" wasn't the novelty it used to be.
Fine. Thanks. We move on.
And then I stumbled across the transcripts of Manning's Thursday teleconference with Jacksonville's media, during which he was asked about watching his brother Eli play the previous Monday night against Atlanta.
"I enjoyed watching (Eli) play on Monday night because I got a chance to see him play live on TV, and being able to watch the game in mute,'' Peyton said. "Because it's an easier way to watch the game than hear some of those broadcasters.''
Wait. I thought the Colts' P.R. man said Manning simply was saying "MNF" had, over time, lost its cache.
Clearly, Peyton has issues with the "MNF" booth, and my best guess is, he has most of those issues with Kornheiser.
"Yeah, it's probably me,'' Kornheiser said by phone Saturday, moments before walking into production meetings with Manning and the rest of the Colts. "I'm sure it was the heads-on-sticks segment I did before the game. You think that upset him? Really? I thought it was very funny. I think most people thought it was hysterical. That wasn't me saying those funny, mean things about Peyton. That was Eli. That's the whole idea behind heads-on-sticks. I was just saying what Eli wanted to say. Like, 'What a raving egomaniac; he sent me a DVD of his 'Saturday Night Live' appearance.' It was the perfect marriage of ("Pardon The Interruption," the show on which Kornheiser does the bit) and 'Monday Night Football.'
"C'mon, that was funny. Wasn't it?''
Well, yeah, I thought it was funny. But, then, I'm not a member of the Manning family, although I've begun the paperwork necessary for an adoption.
Some of us love what Kornheiser brings to the broadcast -- humor, a subversive streak and a very sharp stick, which he uses to poke Ron Jaworski. I am a longtime admirer of Kornheiser's writing and radio/TV work, and he has always been enormously nice to me.
I understand, though, why complete strangers come up to me and tell me they can't stand that Kornblatt guy on "MNF." Mr. Tony is an acquired taste. My mother-in-law once told me she couldn't stand "Seinfeld.'' Hey, it's a free country.
See, with Peyton, you can take shots at him -- heck, he took shots at himself with that hysterical United Way spoof on "SNL" -- but you bring in Eli or Olivia or Archie, and he's going to get defensive. And I admire that quality. I hope that once my adoption to the Manning Family is complete, he'll be just as protective of me, his much shorter, older brother.
Two, Manning is a football guy, as hardcore a football guy as exists this side of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Kornheiser would be the first to admit, he couldn't spell "X's and O's'' if you spotted him the "X's.'' It's a point of pride for him, actually.
"It sounds like he's upset with me, and really, that's too bad for me,'' Kornheiser said. "Let me say this: I think Peyton is the best interview we do. He's smart, he's a great story-teller, he's funny, he remembers everybody's names. I guess we have different sensibilities, and that's OK. We're getting ready to go meet with them (the Colts) right now, so we'll see if he's still talking to me.''
Now we're getting somewhere. One week, Kornheiser has Eli's head on a stick. This week, Peyton wants Kornheiser's head on a stick. Who says "Monday Night Football" no longer has any juice?

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or e-mail Listen to Bob on the Colts pregame show tonight from 6:30-8:30 on WFBQ-94.7 FM.