Orange Through and Through: Our Exclusive Interview with Peyton Manning
In March of ‘97, Peyton Manning became the poster boy of college athletics when he chose to stay in school for one more year by passing up immediate millions and prestige. In ‘98 he was the #1 draft pick and has since become the poster boy for the NFL as well being named League MVP twice, breaking all kinds of records and receiving the NFL Man of the Year Award for his community efforts and contributions through his PeyBack Foundation. He continues to demonstrate his commitment to NCAA Football. During the past off-season, he spent hours in the Tennessee film room helping the current Vols coaching staff prepare for the season and donated $1,000,000 to enhance the college program he loves.
Every Game Counts: What in particular do you love about college football?
Peyton Manning: It’s hard to pick one particular aspect because I loved the entire football experience, especially gameday in Knoxville. And there’s the band and the fans forming the tunnel and I can’t forget the diehard fans coming in boats down the Tennessee river right there behind the stadium. It’s special to the fans but even more so for the team. Knoxville has such a great atmosphere and energy. It’s something special. There’s no way to really express how great a experience I had during my four years at Tennessee.
EGC: If you could revisit one day from your college years, what would it be and why?
PM: It’s hard to pick one day. My senior year in college was truly special and I intentionally took it very slow. During my first 3 years I felt like I was always in a hurry- running to class, running to practice. Once I decided to stay for my senior year I decided to slow it down- walk to class, walk to practice. I created a lot of life-long, lasting memories with teammates, coaches, other students and teachers, really the whole Tennessee family. I still have great memories of my senior year there at Tennessee.
EGC: Is there anything you wish you would have had more time to do while in college?
PM: There are things that if I left after my junior year I would have regretted. During my senior year, I got to know more students and spend more time with students and athletes. The summer before my senior year and even the Spring of my Junior year, I intentionally took the time to strengthen friendships and get to know people. I’m glad I took that last year to do that.
EGC: What's the one moment that lets you sleep well?
PM: I’m just proud to say that I enjoyed and experienced 4 years of the college student-athlete experience. I had a real positive experience as a student and an athlete. Some of my best friends are students that I didn’t play football with but I keep in touch with lots of the students and players. I was friends with coaches too. The Tennessee football program will always be a part of my life. It will continue to be a part of my life forever and I’m just proud of that.
EGC: What do you remember most about the Vol locker room?
PM: Obviously the locker room after game- the celebration of players and coaches, everyone coming in a circle together, and Coach Fulmer addressing the team. There was a song we’d all sing after wins. It was a great feeling with all the hard work put to good use for a good win. Obviously the Vol locker room meant it was a home game and with 100,000+ people in the stands celebrating, I’d always look forward to getting in there after the game to celebrate. It was always something to look forward to and I never took that for granted.
EGC: What was your favorite non-football hangout at Tennessee?
PM: There’s a great hamburger joint on the strip called Gus’s. It was always a great hang-out. I’d go with teammates and get a big cheeseburger and just hang out. They had lots of Tennessee memorabilia on walls at Gus’s and it was always a fun time to go out there with teammates and grab something to eat.
EGC: What does a student miss by not participating in the whole NCAA Football experience?
PM: Being a student-athlete gives you the best of both worlds. There’s just a great atmosphere academically and particularly in football. I really like the pageantry. It’s a very special experience and one I never took for granted. I’m glad I got to do it for four years. You know, there are a lot of students who’d like to play football, but not everyone can. It’s fun to come in as an athlete with 20-25 other freshmen in your recruiting class. You grow from boys to men together. You go through your early 20s together. You mature as a football player and as a person on and off the field. It’s your recruiting class that you’re in school with for 4 years.
EGC: Why should a student go to a game to support the team?
PM: You don’t need a recruiting pitch there. Tennessee has outstanding fan support. It’s a great atmosphere there on Saturdays. It’s just a positive, fun experience. But I will say that at other schools if the students aren’t supporting their team they’re missing something special. Somehow sitting through the rain and snow, singing the fight song and agonizing over every score binds you together for life in a very special way.
EGC: What inspired you to donate $1,000,000 to the football program at Tennessee? And why did you give so much after you’ve consistently given a lot in the past? Lots of athletes figure after they leave they’ve given enough to their school and most give little to nothing back.
PM: A million dollars is a lot of money. I would like the majority of the donation to be spent in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex. That’s where the indoor football field, offices and dressing room are housed. It was one of the most salient memories of my official visit in 1994. The current dressing area is not up to SEC or Tennessee standards. Student-athletes choose schools with their eyes, and we need to provide that `WOW' for them in the complex.
Don’t forget to check in next Friday for our exclusive celebrity Coach blogs featuring reigning National Champion Head Coach Mack Brown. And don’t forget to weigh in with your comments!