In Honor of Eli Manning: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Sports-Themed SNL

Chris MaddenAnalyst IIMay 2, 2012

In Honor of Eli Manning: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Sports-Themed SNL

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    On Saturday, May 5, Eli Manning will venture from his familiar gridiron surroundings and enter a realm that—depending on his performance—can be just as hostile as any NFL arena: live television.

    Manning will host Saturday Night Live for the first time this weekend.

    This won't be the first time a sports figure has graced the stage of Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, though. Far from it. Some of the most legendary figures in sports history have performed on the iconic show.

    Unfortunately, many of their performances were anything but legendary. Well, maybe legendarily awful.

    Surprising, isn't it? With all the flopping you see in sports these days, you'd think athletes would have this acting thing down. Wrong.

    You might also think with all the previous failures before him, there would be no pressure for Manning. Wrong again.

    As has been the case his entire life, Eli must live up to the sky-high expectations set by his older brother. Peyton hosted SNL back in 2007 and set the bar pretty high.

    If only every athlete host could be as funny. Here are my some highlights and lowlights of sports figures hosting SNL.

The Ugly: Wayne Gretzky

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    Two words: Waikiki Hockey. You can ignore the rest of the show—which you'd be better off doing—and judge it simply on this skit. It's that bad.

    It's the worst skit I've ever seen featuring an athlete. The song's beyond cheesy, Gretzky looks agonizingly uncomfortable and the premise is pure stupidity.

    Sorry, Wayne, you certainly were not The Great One on this night.

The Ugly: Deion Sanders

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    Deion Sanders brought his "Primetime" persona to SNL in 1995. I'm guessing the only reason he did so was to promote his rap album. On the show he premiered the single "Must Be the Money."

    Actually, Deion, it "must be" the worst thing I've ever heard.

    Unfortunately, all the video of his performance is missing. Either that, or he had it destroyed.

    I did find the actual music video, and that is funny enough.

    The highlight of the entire show was this. Chris Farley nearly loses his pants, and hilarity ensues.

The Bad: Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon might have been tricked into being the host in 2003.

    The Rainbow Warrior was at the height of his NASCAR dominance, and SNL probably wanted to draw in his massive audience to their show.

    Bad idea. The fact that I couldn't find any clips, other than the monologue, is telling.

    He was only in a handful of sketches after that.

    Good thing too. His southern drawl and deer-in-the-headlights look were not conducive to comedy.

    Rumor has it that during the week leading up to the premiere, Gordon was a diva. According to this reputable source (Wikipedia), he rejected many of the writers' ideas and refused to participate in some sketches.

    Go back to being a diva on the NASCAR circuit, Jeff; SNL won't be calling you back anytime soon.

The Bad: Charles Barkley

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    Charles Barkley is the only athlete to host SNL more than once. Earlier this year, he hosted for the third time.

    I understand why he was asked to host in the past. He was an NBA superstar and one of the more colorful personalities in the league.

    But now? He's retired and does color commentary on television. His biggest accomplishment was that he reduced his massive girth with Weight Watchers.

    When the only highlight of Barkley's 2012 hosting gig was him getting hit in the head with a piece of bologna, you know it was bad.

    His other two weren't much better.

The Good: George Steinbrenner

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    George Steinbrenner hosted SNL way back in 1990.

    I was 14 years old and had just discovered the show. I was, and still am, a diehard Tigers fan, and at that time, I only knew Steinbrenner was associated with New York Yankees—whom I detested.

    Needless to say, I tuned in simply to ridicule him. 

    He was stiff, robotic and read off the cue cards. Back then, I didn't think he was funny at all.

    Maybe age has refined my comic taste, or maybe since he's gone, my appreciation for "The Boss" has grown.

    Whatever the reason, I see this clip of "Fernando's Hideaway," and Steinbrenner is pretty hilarious in it. Stiff? Yes, of course, but also very funny.

The Good: Michael Jordan

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    Michael Jordan was a newly crowned NBA champion when he hosted SNL in 1991, but his alpha-dog status in the sports world was well established.

    When he appeared on the show to try his hand in comedy, it was quite a risk. What if he bombed? His image might have been soiled. Nike shoe sales might have tanked. His confidence might have been shaken.

    Luckily, Michael attacked the show—like he did the basket every night—with reckless abandon.

    OK, that is an exaggeration, but "His Airness" did a fine job and provided many memorable moments.

    Highlights were Da Bears and the Stuart Smalley sketch. 

    My personal favorite was the Sweet River Baines skit, though. Unfortunately, I could not find any video of it. It was just a hilarious premise about the first black Harlem Globetrotter, and Phil Hartman was priceless as the old-school coach.

    If anyone has video, post it in the comments.

    As if Jordan wasn't cool enough, this show featured the best rap artists of all time, Public Enemy. Try to compare Fear of a Black Planet with any rap album today. You can't; it's not even close.

The Best: Peyton Manning

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    As far as sports figures on SNL go, Peyton Manning takes the cake. His performance was by far the funniest I've ever seen.

    Maybe it was the team of writers who hit a hot streak of creativity that week. Maybe Peyton is just a good actor (for an athlete). He certainly does a good job in all his commercials.

    I still laugh out loud every time I see the digital short above. Who wouldn't?

    Here is another memorable highlight, and another.

    Like I said, Eli has a lot to live up to this weekend. We'll see if he is up to the challenge. He usually delivers in crunch time, so I'd expect no less on SNL.

    Stay tuned.