Dana Hunsinger BenbowIndianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning is used to this co-host thing. He's used to trading jabs with the guy standing, or sitting, next to him. Usually his brother.
Manning took his comedic skills honed analyzing NFL football games with brother Eli on ESPN's ManningCast to the stage in Nashville Wednesday night for the 56th annual CMA Awards. As the show opened, Manning and country music star co-host Luke Bryan walked out in shiny tuxedos.
But they might as well both have been wearing Wrangler jeans, boots and checkered shirts. There were no airs put on, just two guys trading jabs as they hosted the biggest night in country music.
In preparation for hosting, Manning told Bryan he had watched film, studied all the CMA Award shows since 1967. He asked Bryan what he had done to prepare.
"I don't prepare. I'm just a wing it kind of host," Bryan said.
"Trust me, that's clear," Manning, 46, said. "So what you're saying is this is my worst nightmare. But it's actually OK because I do a show with my brother Eli. I am used to this lack of professionalism."
Take a look at some of the best exchanges between Manning and Bryan at the CMA Awards.
A Tennessee guy where country music is king
Manning is a huge country music fan. He's friends with Kenny Chesney, who sang at Manning's wedding. He's worked with Brad Paisley. He played college football at Tennessee, where country music is king.
Hosting the CMA Awards, Manning said Wednesday night, is something he has always dreamed of doing.
"This is the Super Bowl of country music," he said.
"I kind of think the Super Bowl is the CMA Awards of football, Bryan said.
The football comparisons didn't end there.
'Carrie Underwood and I have a lot in common'
Bryan told the crowd that if country music were football, Carrie Underwood would always be a likely candidate for MVP.
"Peyton, you've won so many MVPs," Bryan said.
"Well, Carrie Underwood and I have a lot in common," Manning said. "We've both worked with Brad Paisley. We've both been on Sunday Night Football a lot (Underwood sings the game's opening theme) and we're both very nervous about what Luke Bryan might say tonight."
"Hell," Bryan said, "even I'm nervous about what Luke Bryan might say tonight."
'Rocky Top' too much for Bryan
As Manning declared his love of country music, Bryan asked his favorite country song.
"Well, I'm glad you asked that because my favorite country song is also a dance craze that is currently sweeping the nation," Manning said. "Hey guys in the truck, hit it."
The band started playing "Rocky Top" as a guy appeared on stage dancing solo. "Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top. Down in the Tennessee hills. Ain't no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top. Ain't no telephone bills."
"Stop. Stop. Stop," Bryan finally said, cutting the song short. "I know I'm a Georgia boy but that was too much, too much for my ears. I can't believe we cut Garth's (Brooks) performance for that."
Bryan went on to tease Manning about Tennessee football's recent 27-13 loss to Georgia.
"The truth is that I bet Peyton that if Georgia beats Tennessee," Bryan said, "he would have to cohost the CMA awards. Go Dawgs."
'I thought you really needed a co-host'
If Manning really watched all previous 55 years of the CMA Awards, Bryan had a question for him. After all, he hosted the show solo in 2021.
"Well, how do you think I did last year?" he asked Manning.
"Well, I thought you really needed a co-host," Manning said.
Bryan came back with a big head joke. "I walked around Nashville trying to find a cowboy hat to fit your head," he said.
"Very nice. That can't be done, actually," Manning said.
Manning hosting the CMA Awards marks the first time the Country Music Association has tapped a professional athlete. The last time someone hosted the show whowasn'ta country star was 1968, when actor and Roy Rogers' wife Dale Evans co-hosted with her husband.
Earlier story on Manning at CMA Awards
Peyton Manning has his sleeves rolled up, a whiteboard in front of him and a dry-erase marker in his hand. He's drawn out the play -- a stage with circles below it representing the audience members. On stage is Manning and country music star Luke Bryan.
"I'm going this way," Manning says as he circles himself on the board with an arrow heading left offstage, "and someone comes up and tries to tackle us?"
"Peyton, it's not going to happen," Bryan says in a deadpan voice. "It's an awards show."
The show is the CMA Awards which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC and the tackling question from Manning to Bryan is a joke, of course. Those NFL-laced jokes came in force in promos as Manning and Bryan teamed up to co-host the biggest night in country music.
The two held a boot camp for one ABC promo where Bryan quizzed Manning with photos of country music legends like Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker. They practiced their high fives, with Manning telling Bryan to watch his elbow as they came together to make contact, after a missed slap.
Bryan, who hosted the CMA awards solo in 2021, says he knows what bringing Manning in was all about.
"I got to do this by myself last year and, obviously, I didn't do a good enough job so we had to go to the big guy here," he says pointing to Manning.
The two joke that ABC brought in the "reliever."
Since his NFL career ended with two Super Bowl rings in his pocket, one with Indianapolis and the other with Denver, Manning's career as an on-air guru has soared. In addition to his countless television ads, he and brother Eli have become stars on ESPN'sManningCast where the two announce and analyze Monday Night Football games.
And so, Bryan said, he's not anxious at all with Manning by his side.
“I’m certainly not nervous about Peyton and him messing up, because he’s got this TV stuff down,” Bryan says in an ABC promo, as Manning laughs in the background. “I mean, just watch the Super Bowl. He’s 83% of the commercials on the Super Bowl.”
'I'm a country music fan' boy
Manning might be the one who is a bit nervous.
"It's different for me because Luke is one of them, right, Luke is in the arena with all of these entertainers," Manning said. "For me, I'm a fan. I have a great appreciation for all the talents these men and women have."
Manning has always had a penchant for the country music scene. He has that southern drawl, country music friends and he hasn't been too shy to get up on stage and sing with some of the biggest performers in country music.
Manning is a great friend to Kenny Chesney who in 2001, at the height of his career and of Manning's as Colts quarterback, talked to IndyStar.
"We do all kinds of crazy stuff together," said Chesney, who met Manning when he played for Tennessee, Chesney's favorite college team. Chesney sang in Manning's wedding. Manning sang on stage at Chesney's concert at the New Orleans (Caesars) Super Dome.
"He really likes country music. He likes to sing," Archie Manning, Peyton's father, told IndyStar at the time. "(But) I don't think it's going to be a second career for him."
No. Manning's second career seems to be in television. And he will showcase that Wednesday at the 56th Annual CMA Awardsat Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
"When I was asked if Peyton Manning was someone I would consider co-hosting with, I didn't hesitate," Bryan said in a statement. "We have become great friends through the years and what he brings to the table is going to make it even more of a blast. I know he's been to the CMA Awards before, but he's never been with me. Hey Peyton, I hope you're ready for the night of your life."
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter:@DanaBenbow. Reach her via email:firstname.lastname@example.org.