Q&A with Peyton Manning

Super Bowl champ talks Paris, Opening Ceremony duties and why being an Olympian is tougher than being an NFL player

Editor’s note: Two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning has been tapped as a co-host of the Opening Ceremony at the 2024 Paris Olympics along with entertainer Kelly Clarkson and NBC’s Mike Tirico. As luck would have it, during the recent pro-am at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, the NFL Hall of Famer was paired with two golfers headed to the Olympics: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Jason Day of Australia. Also joining the star-studded group at Muirfield Village Golf Club was “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Chris Pratt and former Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. Following play, Manning, who is a Workday brand ambassador, took some time to talk about his upcoming role in Paris and his own Olympic memories. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

IGF: How did you end up as a co-host for the Opening Ceremony?

Peyton Manning: It's funny. I was At the Kentucky Derby last year, 2023, and I had lunch with (NBC broadcaster) Mike Tirico and Mark Lazarus (chairman, NBCUniversal Media Group). They talked about how they were kind of going to change their Olympic Opening Ceremony lineup. They wanted to bring Kelly Clarkson in, and I tried to kind of remind them that I'm not an Olympian and surely there was somebody else. They kind of want us to just celebrate sports and celebrate athletes. So, I'm honored.

I've really enjoyed it so far. I've talked to probably 15 athletes. I just called them on the phone. I texted them. Some of them took a while to call me back because they thought it was a prank, and it wasn't really me. But Paris is doing it so different. They'll have all the athletes on boat coming down the River Seine, so I've just kind of talked to them about what do you think you're going to be thinking about when you're on that boat. The stories range from their mother who drove them to swim practice all those years to the injuries they had three years ago and how it’s been a four-year climb. I really enjoyed hearing the stories. That's what (I’ll try) to shed light on while the athletes are on those boats. But I’m going to Paris, taking my family, I'm very excited about it.

IGF: Have you ever been to the Olympics?

Manning: I went to the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. I was dating my wife – we were just dating at the time – we went to a couple of events. And we were going to Tokyo a couple years ago, (but that was) obviously during the pandemic, so no fans allowed. I'm super excited to go to Paris, bringing my wife and kids, my mother and my mother-in-law. We're very excited about it.

IGF: Do you remember what events you went to in Atlanta?

Manning: We went to a swimming event. We went to a boxing event. It was the year obviously Michael Johnson dominated the track. We didn't get to go (to that). I think I was in the middle of football practice, so we got a little window to go down there and see a couple of events. We couldn't stay for too long. We're going to get to see some swimming, some volleyball in Paris after the Opening Ceremony, so I'm looking forward to that.

IGF: Will you have any other broadcasting assignments?

Manning: I'm just doing the ceremony. I’ve got to get over there a few days before and do some rehearsals or whatnot. Obviously, there's no real film to study, if you will, because there's nothing like what Paris is doing. Paris is just doing it so differently as opposed to just the sort of ceremonial lap around the track. (There will be athletes from) 206 countries and all coming by boat down the River Seine with hundreds of thousands of people on the sides. There's no real script to study. I think the best advice I've gotten is just sort of observe and take it in and don't feel like you have to talk a lot. I'm like, “That sounds like great advice to me.” I get to watch, and I get to get a trip to Paris out of it. So yeah, I'm really excited. I've really enjoyed talking to these athletes.

You can't really compare it to any other sport. Football, you know, I've had some disappointing losses. But you know what? We can be back next year. We get over this disappointment pretty quickly. But these athletes – it's four years that they have to grind again, and there may not be another opportunity. So I appreciate it so much – their drive and their journey to get to this point, and I look forward to celebrating them at the Opening Ceremony.

IGF: Are there any Olympic sports that you think you and your brother Eli would've been good at?

Manning: No chance. Absolutely not. Flag football's coming in LA in four years. So Eli and I do a little coaching in the flag football for the Pro Bowl. He's 2-0, so clearly they're not going to hire me to be the coach. They might hire Eli.

IGF: Are you going to get to see the golf competition?

Manning: No. I've been talking to Jason (Day). I was telling Jason – it's funny because he was talking about maybe not doing the Opening Ceremony. I was like, “I tell you, do you understand what that's going to be? Like on boats on the River Siene getting dropped off at the Eiffel Tower?” He's like, “I'm going to the Opening Ceremony.” But no, we're going to head back before (the golf).

You know, other sports really get a chance to represent your country. I'm envious of these athletes who get to represent their country, because playing for your team is a big deal to me, to represent your hometown, your alma mater. But I think representing your country – that's pretty special. I'm very excited to be a part of it.