Former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He will be honored this Saturday with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when the Vols host Georgia at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
- 1997 consensus First-Team All-American, winning the NFF William V. Campbell Trophy® and the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Sullivan and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards.
- Guided the Vols to the 1997 SEC title, four consecutive bowl games and three top ten finishes.
- Three-time All-SEC selection and 1997 SEC Player of the Year.
- Played for College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer.
- Becomes 20th Volunteer player to enter the Hall.
Peyton Manning remembers wearing a tuxedo for the first time as a 13-year-old, thrilled to miss school and make his first trip to New York to watch his father, Archie, get formally inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The memories have come flooding back 28 years later, as he reflects on his own illustrious career, one that has placed alongside his dad in the Hall.
“Nothing really compares to this,” said Manning, whose gridiron résumé includes a pair of Super Bowl titles and an NFL-record five MVP awards. In some ways, those professional accolades — as unrivaled as they may be — overshadow his historic career at Tennessee, which represented everything he aspired to achieve growing up as the son of the legendary Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints signal caller.
Manning had immersed himself in his father’s collegiate career, regularly listening to old radio broadcasts on cassette tapes while chomping at the bit to be an SEC quarterback like his old man. Manning lived that dream, starting 45 games and finishing with 11,201 passing yards and 89 touchdowns for the Volunteers. He returned for his senior year despite having already graduated and being projected as the top draft pick, a distinction he ended up earning the following year.
“I just had some great relationships with teammates and teachers and students,” Manning said. “It was a big reason why I stayed for my senior year at Tennessee, because I wanted another year of the college football experience. My first three years it seemed like I was always on the go, running to class or running to a workout. I graduated in three years and so my senior year I was really glad I decided to stay. It gave me a chance to sort of slow down and make some more friendships and create some more memories that will stay with me forever.”
Manning exited Knoxville with 42 NCAA, SEC and Tennessee records, and he won the NFF’s William V. Campbell Trophy® in 1997 as the nation’s top scholar-athlete. The award proved to be prescient for a man who subsequently became the NFL’s all-time passing leader while devoting considerable off-the-field time to charity. In 2007, St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis renamed its children’s hospital in his honor.
“He’s always been an old soul,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who was Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee. “I mean that with great admiration and respect. Peyton was a hall of famer his freshman year. He understood the value of tradition and performance.”
Cutcliffe remembers a recruiting visit with Volunteers head coach (and College Football Hall of Famer) Phillip Fulmer to Manning’s home. Cutcliffe recalled an immediate chemistry with the high school senior that he’s not sure he’s ever had with another recruit, a bond that would help Manning go 7-1 as a freshman starter in 1994.
“To borrow from Forrest Gump: ‘We were like peas and carrots,’” Cutcliffe quipped. Manning made it back for three Tennessee home games in 2016, his first year of retirement — a word he tries to avoid and does not do justice to his busy lifestyle since leaving the NFL.
“I don’t have a single-word job description but still feel pretty busy and have been able to certainly participate in more of my philanthropic efforts.” Manning said. His PeyBack Foundation has continued to annually distribute more than $1 million, and Manning’s scholarship program at the University of Tennessee has provided four-year scholarships to 33 students since its inception in 1998.