Last night, I took a little time to reach out to Bill Carter, the outgoing television reporter for the New York Times. I met Carter once at an event in Denver, and have chatted with him about the late night talk show format a couple of times. Carter’s written two bestselling books on late night television “The Late Shift” and “The War for Late Night.”
Tonight, David Letterman, the subject of much of Carter’s work over the last two decades will take a final bow from the Ed Sullivan theatre. I reached out to Carter last night I asked him how he viewed Letterman’s place in television history. Carter told me, “He’s in the pantheon, the hall of fame, Mount Olympus. David is one of the indisputable great ones in television history.” I certainly won’t argue.
David Letterman changed television. While Johnny Carson may have perfected the Late Night genre, Letterman revolutionized it. He took what had been a format defined by Carson’s smooth as silk sensibility, and turned it into the wild-wild west.
He made it okay to be weird on TV. Whether it was wearing a suit covered in sponges and being dunked into a giant tank of dirty water, dropping a turkey off of a five story tower onto a trampoline for the hell of it, or asking Paris Hilton “So, how did you like it in jail?”
Dave stretched the format in a way no comic ever has or ever will. Through it all, Letterman was able to stay true to himself. He never lost his Midwestern sensibility.
A large piece of that sensibility was a love of sports. Letterman’s a Hoosier. He was born and raised in Indiana, and got his start as a weatherman in Indianapolis. As such, he’s got a natural love of Indy car racing, and is even part owner of a team.
During the early days of ESPN, Letterman would make the trip from his office in New York City to the “worldwide leader’s” Bristol, CT headquarters to watch grainy race footage come in from overseas on the network’s in-house feed. Each time he’d sign himself and his driver in as “Mr. and Mrs. Joey Buttafuoco.”
While he’s admittedly an Indianapolis Colts fan, over the years Dave has taken plenty of opportunities to talk about the team I believe to be his second favorite: the Denver Broncos. Over the last thirty three years, Dave’s praised, and sometimes cracked wise at the Broncos expense
So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to celebrate Dave’s relationship with the Denver Broncos in the way he’d want me to: with a top ten list. However, because I can only hope to be barely a third the man Dave is, we’ll do a top four list instead.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, from the home office in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the top four times David Letterman showed us just how big of a Broncos fan he really is.
4. His Post-Super Bowl XLVIII Top Ten List
Like any good Broncos fan, Dave’s not afraid to criticize the team when they fall on their face. There may never be a moment more aptly described in all of Broncos history than Super Bowl XLVIII. The Orange and Blue were demolished by the Seattle Seahawks by a 35-point margin on the game’s biggest stage. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is a Letterman favorite, and the game was played in Letterman’s city. So, he was no doubt a bit perturbed by the outcome.
The Monday after the game, Letterman turned that debacle of a football game into some quality laughs with a patented top ten list. “Top Ten things overheard on the Broncos’ sideline during the Super Bowl.” The list goes as follows.
10: When does the game start?
9: Boy, it’s a pretty nice day here in New Jersey. When does the game start?
8: We should have endorsed Christie.
7: I hope no one’s watching.
6: This is worse than a honeymoon at Letterman.
5: Who’s the hunk in the fur coat?
4: I can’t believe they wasted all that Gatorade.
3: Eli will motivate us!
2: Too much pre-game Colorado weed.
1: This is how the Jets feel.
3. The Denver-Themed Late Show
While not technically “Bronco” related, this is one of my favorite moments in Letterman history. On May 16, 1997, Dave flew an entire audience out from Colorado to watch a taping of the “Late Show.”
He put out all the stops to make his crowd feel at home, going as far as to replace his famous New York City backdrop with an image of the Denver skyline at sunset. The top ten list that night was “from the home office in Limon, CO.”
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Guests on the show that night were Jeff Goldblum and the Foo Fighters. Or, as Dave calls them, “The Fighters of Foo.” They’ll also be the last musical guests on the show tonight.
2. His Tebow Top Ten
Tebow Mania may be the single most exciting period in Denver Broncos history, and like any good Broncos fan, David Letterman couldn’t help but show off his Orange and Blue stripes by getting in on all that Tebow action.
The Monday after the Broncos miraculous overtime playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dave once again focused his “Top Ten” on the Broncos. This time, the topic was, “Top Ten little known facts about Tim Tebow.”
10: Fell to earth after his home planet Krypton exploded.
9: Throws left, prays right.
8: For breakfast, has icy hot on toast.
7: If you tell him your street address, he’ll tell you the value of your home.
6: Currently 9th on the Kim Kardashian athlete waiting list.
5: Back in college, threw a football twenty yards!
4: One time, lost his temper and said, “Darn it!”
3: Distracts defenders by flashing his beautiful, piercing blue eyes.
2: Justin Bieber fans have “Bieber fever;” Tim Tebow fans have the “Tebola Virus.”
1: Can turn water into Gatorade.
1. His final interview with Peyton Manning
When David Letterman is interested in his guests, there is no better interviewer in television. His questions are poignant, yet simple, and the conversation can be flat out gripping. Peyton Manning sat down with Dave four times, and each time the naturally funny quarterback rose to the occasion and matched wits with one of TV’s greatest talkers.
Manning’s final appearance with Dave came in April of last year, three months removed from Super Bowl XLVIII, and just a couple of weeks after Letterman announced he’d be stepping away from the show. Prior to the taping, Manning wrote a note Dave, “I’m proud to say you’re the only Late Night talk show I’ve done.”
The interview is one of the most entertaining and engaging that you’ll ever see an athlete give. Manning opened up about his family, the disappointment he felt after the Super Bowl, and most revealing of all, his neck injury.
For the first time Manning discussed exactly what happened to him, and how serious the injury was. It’s an interview the often guarded five-time MVP wouldn’t be likely to give elsewhere. Afterward, Dave and Peyton went outside the Late Show’s Broadway studio to throw footballs at Taxi Cabs…because, why the hell not?
While it’s probably not the case, tonight I’m going to pretend David Letterman is a Bronco fan. Just to make him feel a little bit closer. Just to hold on to those classic memories and unforgettable moments just a little longer.
Make no mistake about it, once he says goodnight and the credits role, you will never see David Letterman again. He’ll ride off into the sunset and spend his remaining days listening to Paul and the band play tunes on the porch while he mows his lawn and tries to teach his dog how to do a stupid trick. Forgive me if I choose to picture him wearing orange and blue while he does it.
Peyton Manning will appear on tonight's sendoff for David Letterman.
Talking with @NicolePence who is at the Ed Sullivan Theater. She says Peyton Manning is there and will be on the show.— Derek Schultz (@Schultz1260) May 20, 2015