KNOXVILLE: Peyton Manning decided early this year following the second Super Bowl victory of his NFL career to retire from football.
Tennessee football’s most famous alumnus hardly will distance himself from the game, however, when the season arrives in a couple of months.
To this point in his post-football life, the legendary quarterback hasn’t felt any withdrawals from the game and remains at peace with his decision to step away, though the itch could return as Manning navigates a busy schedule of attending games this fall.
“There’s certainly been a lot of changes this year, but I am really excited about having a free fall for the first time in 22 years,” he said Monday after presenting four Tennessee-bound students with scholarships named after him.
“Shockingly,” Manning added, “it’s going to involve some football.”
Manning was in Knoxville on Monday for his golf tournament, which benefits the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and the scholarship program presentation. They have been annual events on his schedule since his Volunteers career ended in 1997.
Later Monday afternoon Manning met with Tennessee coach Butch Jones and team captains Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton before speaking to the entire team.
“It’ll be the first year that I will not work out with the team,” Manning said. “I’ve thrown with the team every year up to this scholarship presentation. I won’t be throwing anymore, but I’ll certainly be helping them any way I can.
“Josh Dobbs is coming down to the Manning Passing Academy this weekend. He’s been there the past couple of years, and I really enjoy my relationship with Josh and look forward to him having a great year this season.”
Manning plans to attend Tennessee’s clash with Virginia Tech at the Bristol Motor Speedway in September and the Vols’ first visit to Texas A&M and annual meeting with rival Alabama in October.
There’s a 10-year reunion for his Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts team on the itinerary, and Manning’s football-viewing travels also will include watching the Denver Broncos, the team with which he won the Super Bowl in February, and his younger brother, Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants.
“I’m going to see my little brother play in some normal games,” Manning said, “as opposed to always seeing him play in a Super Bowl, where you can’t breathe until the last play.”
Manning and former Virginia Tech All-American Bruce Smith, the top pick in the 1985 NFL draft and 11-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Buffalo Bills, will participate in the coin toss prior to the big game at Bristol.
“It’s hard to believe this hasn’t happened earlier,” Manning said. “I’m sure there’s been talks about it. I went to the race this year, for the first time, to the Bristol Motor Speedway. Just going in there, I don’t know what I was doing — I was riding a lap in a truck with Dale Earnhardt with the Nationwide team.
“I was just thinking, ‘There’s going to be a football game here in a couple of months.’ I’m excited for those guys on both teams. That’s something these guys will never forget.”
Like all of Tennessee’s fans and former players, Manning is looking forward to what could be a special season for the Vols.
“I look forward to having a chance to visit with Butch today,” he said. “He and I stay in touch on the phone quite a bit. I’m a huge Butch Jones fan.
“I love his commitment to the university, and I just feel we have the stability back at our football program that we were used to having for so many years and that created a new standard around here. I’m really looking forward to watching them play, and it’s going to be an exciting season.
“When I talk to the team today, that’s all I kind of want to share is there’s nothing like being a senior and for all the underclassmen to really appreciate what it means to be a senior and to give their all. I know when I was an underclassmen I really wanted to win for guys like Bubba Miller and James ‘Little Man’ Stewart.
“It’s just a special opportunity, and this group of seniors has been through a lot. I hope they can finish off their careers here at the University of Tennessee on a positive note. I’ll be pulling for them every step of the way.”