Will Ferrell’s Jab at Quarterback John Elway Was ‘Talked About in the Halls of ESPN for Decades’

Will Ferrell and Conan O’Brien know a thing or two about being funny and writing a joke. Of course, not every joke lands, and sometimes the target of the joke can take offense.

The two recently discussed two situations in which they appeared on award shows only to get on the bad side of two prominent figures from the world of sports. The former SNL star Ferrell’s jab at quarterback John Elway was so bad it was talked about in the halls of ESPN for decades. 

Will Ferrell and Conan O’Brien’s experiences presenting at awards shows

Ferrell appeared on O’Brien’s podcast to talk about his career and share some stories from his SNL career. Two of the stories the duo shared were about their times performing at two sports-related events: O’Brien at the NFL Honors, and Ferrell at the ESPY’s.

The NFL Honors is designed to hand out awards to some of the NFL’s best players. It features appearances by many of the league’s superstars as well as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The ESPY’s are to the world of sports what the Oscars are to the movies. As for the ESPYs, every year, ESPN gathers the biggest names in athletics for one night to give out awards honoring great performances. They often have a comedian (or athlete telling jokes) host. 

In both settings, both O’Brien and Ferrell had some jokes that didn’t go over very well. 

Conan O’Brien’s run-in with Roger Goodell

Will Ferrell attending a ceremony for LA FC
Actor Will Ferrell attends the Los Angeles Football Club stadium groundbreaking ceremony | Greg Doherty/WireImage

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First, Ferrell and O’Brien talked about the NFL Honors and O’Brien drawing the ire of Roger Goodell, who is the commissioner of the NFL and is disliked by many. Some fans view him as merely a tool of the powerful NFL owners.

In an attempt to poke some fun at himself, Goodell told O’Brien prior to the event that the hilarious host could make any jokes he wanted. According to O’Brien, this sentiment didn’t last very long: 

“He turns and walks over about 10 feet from me, and he’s talking to someone. A woman comes over and hands him the sheet of jokes. And he reads through the sheet of jokes. And I have like six jokes on them. And then he hands the sheets back to her, and she comes over and she says, ‘Uh, none of those are acceptable.'”

Goodell showed that his skin was a bit thinner than he led O’Brien to believe. Of course, that incident wasn’t nearly as infamous as Ferrell’s time at the ESPYs. 

John Elway did not care for Will Ferrell’s joke at the ESPYs

John Elway was the quarterback of the Denver Broncos for many years, known for being a Super Bowl winner and Hall of Famer. He’s also known for his rather distinctive-looking teeth.

According to Farrell, he insulted the QB when he was in character as former Chicago Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Caray: 

 “One of those first ESPY years, SNL was producing the ESPYs. And Norm Macdonald was hosting; it was at Radio City [Music Hall]. And I came out as Harry Caray. And we just went around the room and wrote [jokes].”

Here’s the line Ferrell delivered at Elway’s expense: 

“Hey, there’s John Elway! You just won the Super Bowl. How ’bout going a little nuts and getting those teeth fixed?” 

Needless to say, the former Bronco wasn’t pleased with the bit. According to O’Brien, the camera then cut to Elway and he was “stoning” Ferrell, not reacting at all. The point of the joke was really to lampoon Caray, portrayed as a confused old man. But the damage had been done. The pair then talked about how for years after that incident, people at ESPN wanted to make sure they never had another “Will Ferrell/Harry Caray” moment.