Shortly after the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII in 2008, Lorne Michaels approached Eli Manning about hosting "Saturday Night Live."
Manning politely declined the invitation from SNL’s creator and executive producer, saying he wanted to focus on football and that he didn’t want to host the show not long after brother Peyton drew laughs during his stint as host in 2007.
“I kind of remember saying I just want to do it maybe after my next championship,” Manning recalled of what he told the show.
So after Manning and the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI in February, Michaels came calling again and the Giants quarterback jumped at the opportunity. On Saturday, he will make his debut as “Saturday Night Live” host.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP who calmly engineered fourth-quarter game-winning drives against the Patriots on the biggest stage in sports admits he’s very anxious entering rehearsals for his first time on the SNL stage.
The quarterback may be used to watching endless hours of film preparing for complex defenses. But on Wednesday afternoon, Manning was scheduled to start four hours of rehearsal and go through 40-to-45 sketches. There may be music involved and musical guest Rihanna could also be involved in a skit or two.
Michaels and his staff hope to select 12-to-13 skits for the show and Manning will do more rehearsing and practicing the rest of the week.
“There is music to learn, there are a lot of variables,” Michaels said of the host’s duties. “This show is built around Eli and you just want to make sure that we have the best possible things for this week’s show.”
Michaels has had plenty of athletes host his show -- Eli will be the 35th sports figure to host the show according to the Giants, joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and Wayne Gretzky. The executive producer sees qualities in the Giants quarterback that will help him on Saturday night.
“The good part about athletes is that they are used to being in front of large groups of people and not knowing how it is going to turn out,” Michaels said. “We know how Eli reacts both under pressure and also with changing things quickly.”
"I think he is both charming and breeds a certain kind of intelligence and you sort of believe that he doesn’t take himself that seriously," Michaels added. "I think he takes his work very seriously but there is a sort of a essential modesty to him and I think that plays well with what we do. If the host spends a lot of time protecting an image, it is exhausting, particularly for us."
Manning was in the audience when his big brother hosted the show. He has received advice from Peyton and even John Madden about hosting. They both told him to enjoy the process and spending time with the writers and cast members.
“[Peyton] said just enjoy the week, it is a lot of fun,” Manning said. “It is work. You are doing something you are not quite used to doing. He said the one thing you are used to doing is live. That is something you do every week during the football season.”
Manning -- who says one of his favorite SNL skits off the top of his head is Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze's famous Chippendales act -- has his teammates excited and some are planning Saturday night gatherings to watch. The Giants quarterback is known for his humor and penchant for playing pranks on teammates.
“He is a funny guy,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. “You guys are not around him that much but he can be pretty funny.”
Manning has already shot a few promos for the show, including one in which he sings.
“The good thing about ‘Saturday Night Live,’ you can come in and maybe express a different side that people don’t see and maybe that is not you at all times but for this night you can kind of let loose,” said Manning, who is a noted karaoke enthusiast. “That is one thing about Peyton, we don’t mind making fun of [ourselves] or letting jokes be at our own expense. I think it is important to have that attitude going into this week.”
Michaels was asked which Manning is funnier – Peyton or Eli.
“We won’t really know that until Saturday,” Michaels said. “It’s been great so far.”
“Eli was good enough to win another Super Bowl which helped us out a lot.”