Manning wished best of luck after football career – Knoxville News Sentinel
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When former University of Tennessee football icon Peyton Manning announced his retirement from football last Monday in Denver, one of the most storied careers in NFL history came to a close. But it was his four years at UT that made him a legend to all who bleed orange.
Manning came to UT in 1994 as a high school phenom from New Orleans and a certified member of college football royalty, the son of Ole Miss legend Archie Manning. He became a starter in his freshman year. UT was 39-6 during Manning’s four years at the school. He passed for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns during his UT career and earned first-team All-America honors as a senior. By the time his eligibility ended, he held 42 NCAA, SEC and school records.
Manning was more than the sum of his statistics at UT, however. He endeared himself to UT fans when he announced he would return for his senior season in 1997 rather than turn pro, despite being projected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Fans repaid his loyalty with adulation. Couples in Tennessee began naming their newborns Peyton.
A training room incident — described as a mooning by Manning, an assault by trainer Jamie Whited (now Jamie Naughright) — caused years of legal problems and cast a blemish on his image. But in the eyes of most Vol fans, the incident has been far overshadowed by the high personal standards to which he has since adhered, including many philanthropic activities such as the establishment of the Peyback Foundation, which has given more than $10 million to help at-risk youngsters in Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana and Tennessee.
For his play on the field he won numerous awards, including the 1997 Maxwell Award as college football’s best player, though the big one got away. Big Orange fans took his second-place finish to Michigan’s Charles Woodson in the 1997 Heisman Trophy balloting as a personal insult — a wound that still throbs with resentment to this day.
Manning blossomed into one of football’s all-time greats in the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts drafted him No. 1 in 1998. After a tough rookie season, Manning began earning a place in sports history.
Manning earned Most Valuable Player honors a record five times during his 18-year career. A seven-time first-team all pro, he passed for 71,940 yards — nearly 41 miles — and 539 touchdowns. He bounced back from three neck surgeries to record the greatest single season of any quarterback in NFL history for the Denver Broncos in 2013, passing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Manning led two Super Bowl winners, the 2007 Colts and the 2015 Broncos.
Numerous players, sportswriters and pundits have pointed out in recent days that Manning transformed the quarterback position. Famously studious, Manning thoroughly, perhaps obsessively, prepared for games mentally as well as physically. That mental preparation and perfectionism enabled him to lead the Broncos to their Super Bowl last victory last month in his 18th season, despite a precipitous drop in his physical abilities from his prime.
Manning has proven to be almost as popular in Indianapolis and Denver as he is in Knoxville, where the fans’ adulation has not diminished over time. His celebrity extends far beyond the stadiums in which he has played. He is a high-profile advertising pitchman and his self-deprecating sense of humor made for a memorable turn as host of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Manning is among the greatest players ever to step foot on the gridiron, and it is fitting that he went out a Super Bowl champion. He has not announced his plans for the next phase of his life — some have speculated he will go into coaching, take a job in an NFL front office or become a network sports analyst — but whatever he does he is certain to tackle it with his trademark thoroughness, dedication and competitive spirit. We wish him well in his future endeavors.