Peyton Manning’s legacy lives forever among Tennessee football fans

Tennessee football living legend and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has decided to retire from the NFL.

Peyton Manning was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft after four years at the University of Tennessee where he decided against continuing his father Archie Manning’s legacy at Ole Miss and build a legacy of his own.

As one of the top recruits in the nation, Manning could have gone anywhere to play his college football, but after turning down Ole Miss, Manning’s decision to attend Tennessee and play for the Vols would give thousands upon thousands of fans in the Volunteer State memories they’ll be able to pass on to later generations.

Manning worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman after a season-ending knee injury to Jerry Colquitt in the opener against UCLA and three weeks later future Colorado Rockies superstar Todd Helton suffered a knee injury of his own.

Little did we know then that their injuries would pave the way for one of the best college football careers of all-time that allowed Manning to develop the physical and mental skills and abilities to be one of the greatest NFL players of all-time too.

Manning went 7-1 in his eight starts as a true freshman with the lone loss a 17-13 loss to rival Alabama and 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. What happened over the next three years cemented his status as the greatest player in Tennessee football history.

He started every game for the next three years and finished with a 39-6 record. He threw a Tennessee single-season record 36 touchdowns and 3,819 yards as a senior to win the SEC Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Trophy, Johnny Unitas Award and Maxwell Trophy.

Manning didn’t win the Heisman after finishing second to Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, who retired at the end of the season, and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the same time as Manning. While Manning never won a Heisman, he did finish sixth, eighth and second in his last three years.

When he left Tennessee, Manning was the SEC’s all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and second to Florida’s Danny Wuerffel with 89 career touchdowns. He now ranks fourth and third in both categories.

Tennessee football fans followed his career in the NFL where he was the top pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. There are probably more Colts fans in Tennessee because of Manning than there are Tennessee Titans fans.

They watched as he put up prolific numbers, racked up division titles and MVP awards and finally his first Super Bowl after beating the Chicago Bears in 2007 and a second with the Broncos to give him a Hollywood ending and cement his legacy as a player.

Dozens of families named their children after Manning.

Even more dreamed of wanting to grow up and play for Tennessee to be just like No. 16.

That’s a legacy to be proud of.

It’s a legacy that makes him an immortal figure Tennessee fans.