He was there to present the 2011 Most Valuable Player award, which would be delivered to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the eve of a game both surely would prefer to instead be playing in.
"We're all excited to see you back on the field next year," Rodgers said to Manning after taking the stage and pointing out Manning has won the same award four times.
How's that for a solid trifecta? Classy move by Rodgers. Smart move by NBC and the NFL. And worthwhile move by Manning, who came across much better when he simply stuck to the script and allowed the crowd to pay him the respect he deserves this week in Indy.
On a night when some questioned whether the Hall of Fame committee got it right by leaving out Bill Parcells, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, this new awards show nailed it, putting together the first-ever primetime event on the eve of the Super Bowl. And perhaps most importantly, The Associated Press' voting panel made it pretty easy on the broadcast as well, ushering one worthy star after another across the stage at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis.
For those complaining about New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees winning Offensive Player of the Year over Rodgers, they would soon be appeased when Rodgers appropriately landed the league's MVP award. Whether you'd choose Brees over Rodgers or not, the defenders of Brees can at least point to a fantastic season that included a new record for total single-season passing yards (5,476).
Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford as the Comeback Player of the Year? Fair enough. And Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs as Defensive Player of the Year? Good call. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller were also both solid choices for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, respectively -- two winners that probably would have been easy to pick long before this show began taping.
Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow also got his share of attention. Host Alec Baldwin's attempt to "Tebow" caused Tebow himself to jump on stage and fix Baldwin's positioning into the proper pose. A few minutes later, Tebow received the GMC Never Say Never Award, which also might have been the most appropriate award for a player who otherwise did little statistically to deserve his place on the stage. Tebow's improbable win against the Bears earned him the trophy -- and his acceptance speech might have earned him the line of the night.
"I guess you really never can say never," Tebow said. "Alec Baldwin is up here praying, so that's pretty cool."
No doubt, the league's first award show was a considerable success -- one that should create some momentum for a repeat performance next year, as well.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington