To understand Peyton Manning’s approach to his sports media career and its future, it is best to look at some old game film. Stepping up to the line of scrimmage, ol’ No. 18 would survey the defense, pointing here, nodding there, until he found the smallest advantage — and then he might audible.
“Omaha! Omaha!” he would famously scream.
On the eve of Manning officially being elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday, his pre-snap thoroughness is the right analogy for his expanding life in media.
Manning surveys everything before picking out what is a perfect fit or checking down to something else. His latest project could be a keeper, if he so decides.
Manning has started Omaha Productions. Initially, he is building off the success of his ESPN+/NFL Films program “Peyton’s Places.” He will next produce other big name athletes’ programs based on the show. He will continue doing another year of the NFL film-breakdown show “Detail” for ESPN+.
And he is becoming a game show host. He will have executive producer credits all around.
To try to figure out what is next for Manning, “America’s pitchman,” The Post spoke to his father, Archie, his Peyton Places’ showrunner, Neil Zender, and several TV executives and agents, who did not want to go on the record.
As for Peyton, he “politely declined” through a spokesman to be interviewed for this story, but did find time to circle around to some of those whom The Post spoke to make sure that they didn’t say anything wrong.
(Don’t worry, Peyton, probably out of a mix of admiration and apprehension, they all spoke glowingly of you.)
WHAT IS NEXT FOR PEYTON?
Peyton has thought about running a team with an ownership stake and has had high-level discussions with NFL owners about positions, according to sources, but nothing has come of them. For what it is worth, he also, according to sources, has come close to saying yes to a job in an NFL broadcast booth before ultimately saying no.
At the moment, Omaha Productions is his main focus. He is building on his role as the executive producer of “Peyton’s Places” by overseeing similar shows with retired star athletes. He will team with David (Papi’s Places!) Ortiz on baseball, Ronda Rousey on MMA, Abby Wambach on soccer and his brother Eli on college football.
Peyton will continue to do “Detail,” which is watched by NFL quarterbacks and high school coaches alike, wanting to hear Manning’s mastery of the quarterback position. And he will host a reboot of “College Bowl” for NBC, which is based on a show from half-century ago that pits college teams in a tournament of the minds.
Peyton’s brother Cooper, the naturally funny man in the family, will be the sideline reporter on the show. Peyton, Cooper and Eli are executive producers on the project.
What is clear on most everything is that Peyton, 44, will include family, as is the Manning way.
NOT JUST THE FIRST FAMILY OF FOOTBALL
The idea of ESPN or anyone being interested in a Manning for a big NFL TV position is nothing new. Like a lot of things his sons have faced, Archie did it first.
Back in the mid-’80s, ESPN was putting together a little highlight program that would be called “NFL PrimeTime.” Archie — an Ole Miss legend, the No. 2 pick in the 1971 draft, two-time Pro Bowler and a really nice guy — had an audition with an up-and-coming sportscaster named Chris Berman.
Archie traveled up to Bristol, Conn., but he ended up turning down the opportunity.
“With three little boys, I wanted my weekends at home,” Archie told The Post of his thoughts after retiring from playing.
Archie went on to be a fixture on Saints radio broadcasts until he gave it up when Peyton became a pro in 1998. He also has done some work for CBS Sports on college football to go along with his investment business and corporate speaking.
You can hear why he would be a success on the speech circuit with his familiar drawl and hospitality. He’s quick to say, “I’m not bragging on Peyton,” and that he doesn’t have too much insight into Peyton’s future, reminding you he is not a manager.
“You probably know as much as I do, from what I read,” Archie said with a little Southern charm.
He and his wife, Olivia, just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and you can tell that family is at the center of their lives. It has always been that way to the point Peyton didn’t even know exactly what his dad did following his playing career.
“When Peyon started to get recruited,” Archie recalled, “on all the applications, it said, ‘Father Occupation,’ and he asked his mother, ‘What does dad do?’ ”
Then Archie, in a jovial tone and a chuckle, added a one-liner, “I’m afraid he thinks I’m running drugs.’”
Peyton’s post-retirement dilemma is not dissimilar to Archie’s and that of many ex-athletes. He is ultra-competitive and the commitment elite athletes make to their professions is often not fully understood, but it is usually difficult to find that same fulfillment in business, while balancing newfound time for more of a family life.
Just like Archie, Peyton and his wife, Ashley, are raising their 10-year-old twins (a boy and a girl), which makes any sort of full-time commitment more difficult.
“They are truly enjoying their children,” Archie said.
This is Peyton’s dilemma, just as Archie had to make a choice, about “PrimeTime.” When you don’t need the money — Peyton has hundreds of millions in career earnings between playing, commercials and speaking engagements — you can be choosy.
It is also not in Peyton’s genes to go half-speed.
“He has to be all in,” Archie said. “That’s the way he’s always been.”
For “Peyton’s Places” latest episode on ESPN+ that drops Sunday, he reenacted the jet-pack halftime show from Super Bowl I. Manning, like he was in the pocket, is about precision.
Just as they did in 1967, “Peyton’s Places” made sure the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum was painted in 5-yard increments, not today’s 10.
“It is all because Peyton Manning is like, ‘This needs to be perfect,’ ” said Zender, an NFL Films coordinating producer, who creates each episode of the show with Manning.
Manning would probably have strapped on a jet pack for the show, but, according to Zender, it is so dangerous you have to train with the equipment for six months.
If you have watched Manning on “Peyton’s Places,” the attention to detail sticks out. For example, he donned a yellow “Monday Night Football” blazer and toupee for a Howard Cosell segment with Al Michaels.
The other thing that is apparent is that he can land any guest. For ESPN+, with 11.5 million subscribers, President Bill Clinton and David Letterman have shown up, as well as everybody and anybody in football.
“People want to talk to him,” Zender said. “People want to meet him.”
With the other “Peyton Places,” “Detail” series, and “College Quiz Bowl,” you see how everything is jigsawing into place into a media company.
“What is unique about Peyton is that instead of doing what everyone has done and what you are ‘supposed to do’ as a great quarterback when you retire, he has been an individual and has done what is fun for him and makes him happy,” Zender said.
What this could be setting up is another rivalry with Tom Brady, who at 43 will be playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl for the Buccaneers. Brady has launched 199 Productions with his own designs on being involved in a media company. Manning’s other contemporaries, Drew Brees, when he officially retires, has agreed with NBC to follow Tony Romo into the broadcast booth. Philip Rivers will have broadcast opportunities, but has committed to coaching high school. And Eli Manning is dabbling in media with a role with the Giants potentially on the horizon.
TOP FREE AGENT TV ANALYST
In what would have been one of the most amazing sports media stories ever, last winter, in the midst of negotiating what turned out to be Romo’s 10-year, $180 million contract, CBS audibled and tried to bring in Manning instead. He declined. It wasn’t the first time.
For years, ESPN has recruited him for the MNF booth. Fox tried to land him for “Thursday Night Football.” He has continually said no to live, unscripted television.
The thought has been Manning wants to be an owner of a team. Despite all the money he has made, he probably will have to go the Derek Jeter route, in which Jeter reportedly has a 4 percent stake in the Marlins, while running the team. That might be the endgame, though; the right opportunities, even for Peyton are not easy to find.
From executives to agents to his father to his producer, it seems like it is not certain Peyton exactly knows what is next.
He does like to control the narrative so being in an executive producer chair might be the right choice.
Whatever he does, the sports-media playing field is wide open for him. He will survey it all.
“He could always call an ‘Omaha,’ ” Zender said.