'GIP-PER! GIP-PER!' Peyton and Eli Manning visit Jerome Bettis, Notre Dame for 2 crazy days

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Matt Carranza had been up since 4 a.m. Still dressed in his Army ROTC fatigues, the Notre Dame senior had just returned from a full day of exercises 90 miles away at the Fort Custer Training Center outside Kalamazoo, Mich. 

Exhaustion, however, was no match for his devotion to Eli Manning. 

Perched on a brown wooden Adirondack chair in a leafy courtyard outside Washington Hall, Carranza craned his neck and sharpened his gaze late Thursday afternoon as he sought a glimpse of his retired football hero. 

There was no time to rush back to his off-campus house and retrieve his No. 10 New York Giants jersey. Nor was Carranza able to return in time to join the 300 or so fellow students who waited more than an hour and gladly signed a two-page release form so they could serve as extras in a “Ghostbusters”-themed spoof for NFL Films.

Retired NFL star Peyton Manning conducts filming outside Notre Dame's Washington Hall on April 28, 2022

“I love Peyton Manning; I love Eli Manning even more,” Carranza said between takes of a scene that featured both Manning brothers and former Notre Dame fullback Jerome Bettis in full ghostbusting regalia. “Since I was 6 years old, I’ve just been a huge fan. For some reason I just loved Eli Manning.” 

Now 22 and headed after graduation to Fort Benning, Ga., for armored tank officer training, Carranza grew up in Barrington, R.I. While his childhood classmates jumped on the Patriots bandwagon and worshiped Tom Brady, Carranza gravitated to the Giants and their oft-maligned quarterback. 

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A trip to a Giants-Patriots preseason game at age 7 turned ugly for Carranza when an overserved New England fan tried to embarrass him. 

“This drunk Bostonian started heckling me, and I started crying and I hated the Patriots from then on,” Carranza said. “Then Eli beat them in the Super Bowl later that year. Eli’s my athletic hero. I love him so much.”

l-r, Retired NFL greats Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Jerome Bettis portray "Ghostbusters" during filming at Notre Dame on April 28, 2022

Just then a male voice cried out, “Eli, you’re a hero!” from across the courtyard. The Manning brothers may be tied at two apiece in Super Bowl victories, but if this two-day shoot at Notre Dame is any indication, the younger, less-glib version seems to be gaining in popularity.

“(Wednesday) we walked around campus for about three hours looking for Eli,” said senior Pete Kalemkarian, a lifelong Giants fan from Ann Arbor, Mich. “We found him at Library Lawn doing a shoot over there. We got some pictures, a video with him on the golf cart. We came over here today to get a selfie with him.” 

'When's the Arch commitment?'

Word began to spread around campus early in the week that the Mannings were headed to town. A call went out on Sunday night for drama students and interested extras.

Notre Dame senior Matt Carranza rushed back from Army ROTC training to get a glimpse of his sports hero Eli Manning on April 28, 2022

What initially had been a list of four shooting locations eventually ballooned into perhaps three dozen, all done in a span of 30 hours or so by three distinct film crews that totaled roughly 60 workers in all. 

“We knew exactly what we were doing and exactly when we were doing it,” associate producer Dafna Harrison said. “We just come in and absorb and take note and appreciate. We’re here for the surroundings, specifically. All of the surroundings worked beautifully.”

l-r, Peyton Manning, Isaiah Foskey and Eli Manning pose during the NFL greats' visit to Notre Dame on April 27-28.

Based on social media postings, the Mannings and Co. essentially had their run of the place. They posed for photos outside Notre Dame Stadium and at an outdoor gathering with Irish football players, including star defensive end Isaiah Foskey; made a surprise visit to the Mendoza College of Business and caused a stir when they started filming in South Dining Hall. 

A friend texted Carranza with the latter information on Wednesday. He raced over to find his hero but got there too late.

“I found a group of guys that were also looking for him, and we just kind of wandered the campus for an hour,” Carranza said while noting this is final-exam period. “I was like, ‘I have to find him,’ and (Thursday) I finally did.” 

While Peyton Manning got most of the endorsements and memorable lines (“Cut that meat!”) during their playing careers, Eli and the other Manning men are closing the gap, 

Thanks to the highly successful “Manningcast,” a second-screen alternative to “Monday Night Football” last fall, and heavy-rotation TV commercials for Caesars Sportsbook, the comedic timing of family patriarch Archie Manning and third brother Cooper — whose son Arch is a five-star quarterback recruit in the Class of 2023 — is getting its due.  

At one point during Thursday’s hour-long shoot near the steps of Washington Hall, which centered around a search for the ghost of legendary Irish star George Gipp, a Notre Dame student yelled, “When’s the Arch commitment?”

Peyton Manning “just laughed and got in the car,” Kalemkarian said. 

While the biggest scripted student cheers seemed to be saved for Bettis — who delivered a dig at USC even though that famed rivalry didn’t start until 1926, almost six years after Gipp’s stunning death — an apparent ad lib from Eli went over even better. 

“Yell if you think Peyton’s got a big head!” baby brother called out as he punched the air during one of about 15 takes. 

Wild roars ensued for the next 30 seconds. 

What the Ecto?

Having Bettis and the Mannings in “Ghostbusters” suits was great, but the whole bit nearly collapsed for lack of a suitable Ectomobile.

Loren Baldwin, who owns one of eight recognized replicas of the 1959 Cadillac Miller Meteor used in the original hit movie from 1984, turned down the initial request when Sony Pictures contacted him about three weeks ago. 

Baldwin, 38, has been busy working for Uncle Sam, as he puts it, and wasn’t sure he could make the trip over from Cincinnati. The next-closest Ectomobile is docked in New Jersey, he said. 

Finally, he relented about 10 days before shooting was to start, and arrangements were made to have the 7,500-pound, white-walled white whale hauled over to campus. His version of the Caddy, which he purchased for $2,500 from an ailing Kokomo, Ind., man back in 2009, has 33,261 miles and gets less than 10 miles to gallon. 

Loren Baldwin of Cincinnati provided the 1959 Cadillac, aka Ectomobile, for the Manning Brothers' "Ghostbusters" -themed NFL Films project at Notre Dame on April 28, 2022

Baldwin was on set, cringing with every slam of the driver’s side door with the famous “Ghostbusters” logo.

He showed "The Bus" how to fold his 250-pound frame (plus bulky backpack) into a kneeling position on the plywood floor boards of the back seat and gave detailed instructions to Peyton Manning before letting him become perhaps the eighth person ever to drive Ecto-1 since it came into his possession. 

“It’s slow, it takes forever to brake and it just kind of floats,” Baldwin said. “So the advice is, ‘Don’t take corners too fast and don’t think you’re going to get anywhere fast.” 

It took two years for Baldwin to complete the restoration of the vehicle, which he estimates could now bring $250,000 at auction. Not only does it feature signatures inside from some of the movie cast, but Baldwin’s pet project “is regarded as the most accurate replica in the world.” 

Sony owns the copyright and Baldwin is not a licensee, so he is only able to solicit charitable donations for the three or four annual appearances the Ectomobile makes. He still gets three or four requests per month from conventioneers and the like, but has become “very selective” due to his work schedule and other factors. 

How did Peyton Manning, the former Colts and Broncos quarterback, do with his driving? 

“Satisfactory,” Baldwin said. 

Was Baldwin nervous watching Manning drive the Ectomobile?

“Of course, I was,” he said. “That’s my baby.” 

Silent cheering

Sports fandom has long been baked into the Notre Dame student experience, but the kids can act a little too. 

Consider, for instance, the multiple takes outside Washington Hall that directed them to pantomime cheering for more than a minute while the Mannings and Bettis clambered out of their vehicle. 

When prompted to chant “GIP-PER! GIP-PER!” and clap rhythmically, they kept up the intensity for more than two solid minutes per take. When gasps were required amid the dry ice plumes, the students sounded appropriately shocked.

Laughter came regularly, as did witty wisecracks in between takes. 

“Look! It’s Tom Brady’s dad!” 

Multiple video cameras, both at ground level and from a wide angle with the benefit of a hydraulic lift, captured the whole surreal experience. 

“They did amazing,” Harrison said of the student extras. “They performed. They paid attention. They took it like a job — seriously. They had fun, which is most important, and we were safe. It was nice to have this campus and all these wonderful kids participate.” 

NFL Films producer Claudio Kuhn shared that assessment, giving his extras a score of 15 on a 1-10 scale. 

“The students were just fantastic, they really were, even pantomiming,” Kuhn said. “The college was great. The students were great. Everyone was really good.” 

The one mystery that remained was who will play the Gipper’s ghost in the final spot? Will it be a famous former Notre Dame football player?

Was that why former quarterback Brady Quinn was spotted on campus with the Mannings? 

“It’s personal,” Kuhn said with a knowing smile. “We treat it in post (production).”

Harrison wasn’t talking either. 

“We don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “That is a secret that we will see eventually in the episode.” 

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.