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Hey Peyton, the NFL called - it wants its ratings back

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Think you could spare us some of your free time and come help us football fans over here?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

So how’s retirement, Peyton?

Has Eli come over to hang out yet? Are you enjoying golf on the weekends, knowing you can relax without having to study a game plan for Sunday?

Yeah, I thought so. We miss you too.

In fact, the NFL misses you.

A lot.

You may have heard that the league’s TV ratings are in the toilet, and the NFL has had a lot of excuses reasons for this.

But I’m not buying any of them (well, except for the Cubs-Indians World Series – which was AWESOME and waaaay more exciting than most of the NFL games that week. I mean, Jacksonville versus Tennessee?? No thanks).

The NFL first blamed the presidential campaign and its contentious debates during prime-time games in September and October as the major culprit. (The NFL probably underestimated the country’s interest in the next leader of the free world the same way pollsters did).

But that really only influenced a handful of games, such as Atlanta v. New Orleans on Monday Night Football in Week 3 in which ratings were down 40 percent over the same week last season. But all Monday night games since have remained below last season’s percentages – the smallest drop being Week 9’s 5 percent dip (Bills v. Seahawks) and the highest being another 40 percent drop for Week 6’s Jets v. Cardinals game.

The disparity of talent within the NFL - making for rather poor matchups and pathetic competition on a weekly basis - is testing even the most patient of football fans.

Like Baltimore v. Cleveland on Thursday Night Football in Week 10 – viewers down 25 percent and ratings down 27 percent because, well ... Cleveland.

In fact, virtually any game this season between teams not named Dallas, New England or Atlanta – has seen a ratings decline in double-digits.

Week 1’s Super Bowl 50 rematch on Thursday primetime was down 8 percent in viewers, 10 percent in ratings. In Week 5, the Falcons vs. Broncos game, featuring two undefeated teams, brought in 9 percent fewer viewers than the same time slot/week last year and a 14 percent drop in ratings.

But this is a fallout from top talent being shuffled around the league thanks to free agency, giving a few teams the necessary pieces to dominate but preventing many mediocre teams from escaping the perpetual "rebuilding" year and offering no hope to teams who continue to waste the talent and money they do have.

The No Fun League certainly hasn’t helped itself either. The NFL can barely maintain – much less gain – viewers, thanks to its constant limitations on player celebrations, poor officiating week in and week out, unclear rules and inconsistent discipline.

Mix all these factors in with the number of cord cutters due to the asinine stranglehold from cable companies and DirecTV – and it is no secret why fans will just tune in via apps, free highlight clips and social media to keep up with a chosen team (which the NFL has also tried to ruin).

‘Peyton Manning, superstar’

But you and I both know what’s really happening here. The NFL misses you, Peyton.

And so do its ratings.

I mean, come on, there’s only so far the "seventh-rounder leading the Super Bowl champs" story can go to appeal to a national audience.

Just look at Sunday night’s epic showdown between two AFC West rivals. The game had everything a football fan would want - conference rivalry, battle for a division ranking advantage, bad blood, two top defenses, two mediocre offenses scoring in impressive back-and-forth fashion, overtime... It was an incredible game and yet viewership and ratings were both down 27 percent from same game slot last year.

For 18 years, the NFL had a star. Every week you made your team a potential national story – whether it was carrying the Colts and/or Broncos to a win through heroics in the air, losing mightily, facing another epic battle with a longtime foe, or a rematch with a formidable opponent. After being so good for so long, there was always a story surrounding you. And more often than not, you were the hero.

Even in your rookie year with the Colts where you posted the most INTs that season, it was obvious big things were on the horizon as you set five NFL rookie records, including most touchdown passes in a season.

And again in your 18th year, where your arm strength was clearly in decline, no defense was completely confident it could overcome you; your football IQ had fooled them too many times.

And that was just football. You were always so much bigger than the game happening on the field. Your football mind was a constant threat; your professionalism consistently disarming; your competitive spirit never to be underestimated; and your intensity always to be respected.

Fans of other teams were interested in how well you played. Tennessee Vols fans tuned in on Sundays just to see how their favorite college quarterback was still carving up defenses for wins.

A number of Colts fans became simultaneous Broncos fans – or defected altogether – just because of you.

There are no current players who truly appreciate the game of football, who revere its competition, respect its past and raise the competition around them like you.

Oh, there are plenty of stars on Sunday.

There are rookies with awesome potential.

There are veterans with Hall-of-Fame careers.

There are amazing athletes creating fabulous highlight reels every week.

But none of these has star power - none is single-handedly bringing fans to the fold.

So come back to the NFL, Peyton. Not as a quarterback, of course. You rode that horse into the sunset, and it was perfect.

Now we need you among the coaching ranks. Nowhere could your legacy in football be more cemented than to pass on the knowledge you’ve gained along the way from your father, your coaches and your teammates to young stars in the making.

We need you in the locker room, leading young teams to greatness while showing players how to be leaders, how to appreciate those who came before them and mentor those who will come after them.

We need you in the press room - oh lord, how we need you in the press room - giving tips on how to be gracious rather than pouty, complimentary rather than braggadocious, unassuming rather than flamboyant.

And mostly we need you on the sidelines, flaunting your game management brilliance and two-minute offense mastery while providing the other NFL coaches a "this is how it’s done" tutorial every weekend.

We can’t wait 18 years for another Manning (though we will welcome him with open arms).

So what do you say, Peyton?

Just go ahead and clear that commercial calendar and sacrifice your well-deserved easy life for us fans just one more time (but many more years).

Please?

Sincerely,

Every Single Football Fan in America (except maybe Chiefs fans because they’re still salty)