The Manning Brothers visit Notre Dame: 'Hey, Freeman, get your lines down!'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Marcus Freeman might seem like a natural on camera, but acting chops weren’t the reason he was hired as Notre Dame football coach.

Freeman felt the need to remind Peyton and Eli Manning of that fact back in late April when the retired Super Bowl-champion quarterbacks paid a two-day visit to Notre Dame as part of their popular Omaha Productions television endeavors.

“I could sense the frustration,” Freeman told during a late June interview in his office. “They were kind of looking at me like, ‘Hey, Freeman, get your lines down. Let’s go!’ … I said, ‘I didn’t ask to be an actor. You guys asked me to come say these lines, so don’t get mad at me because I can’t remember my lines.’“

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Episode 2 of the second season of “Eli’s Places” is set to air Wednesday on ESPN+. Along with the Mannings and former Irish quarterback and Fox Sports TV analyst Brady Quinn, Freeman did his part in an elaborate spoof that took place at the Rockne House — 1417 Wayne Street.

It revolved around Freeman trying to convince a couple dozen members of the current Irish team to run “Old 51,” Rockne’s signature misdirection play from the Golden Era of Sports nearly a century ago. Freeman uses Rockne’s gold whistle and even makes a noble attempt at mimicking one of Rockne’s most famous locker room speeches.

The punchline? Instead of the end zone, the goal is to reach “Miss O’Leary’s doorstep” while watching out for her flower bed.

Asked how many takes he needed for some of those scenes at the Rockne House, Freeman laughed.

“Ooh,” he said. “More than they did.”

Pressure aside, Freeman enjoyed the experience of trading lines with the Manning Brothers. The rookie head coach even got to drive a classic Studebaker Rockne for one of the scenes.

“It was cool,” Freeman said. “What I learned is that (the Mannings) are ultimate professionals. They’re really good at that acting thing. They gave me a piece of paper and said, ‘Memorize this and be able to do it in five minutes.’ “

He shook his head.

“And I’m like, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way,’ “ Freeman said. “But those two, they were really good.”

Freeman might have teamed with Peyton Manning back in 2010 on the Indianapolis Colts, but a failed physical for an enlarged heart valve that February convinced Freeman to retire and start his coaching career. The two had never met before April, but Peyton Manning gave a motivational talk to the Irish players.

“It’s instant credibility, right?” Freeman said.

During a recruiting trip to Tampa this offseason, Freeman spent time with NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy, who coached Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl title with the Colts. Dungy shared with Freeman one of his favorite Manning stories.

After the Colts drafted tight end Anthony Gonzalez, Freeman’s former Ohio State teammate, Manning would drive twice a week from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio to help the rookie learn the playbook and build a familiarity with his new target.

“Only Peyton Manning would do that,” Freeman said. “Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, those guys are relentless workers. There’s a reason why they’ve had so much success.“

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and TikTok @mikeberardinondi.