Still, once a week, Manning would have the Colts’ equipment manager squirt water on the football before snaps during a wet-ball drill.
Colts center Jeff Saturday asked Manning: What gives?
“Jeff’s like, ‘Why are we doing the wet-ball drill? We’re playing in the RCA Dome this week,’ ” Manning recalled.
You never know, Manning responded. Better to be prepared.
Fast forward to Feb. 4, 2007, and the Colts played the Chicago Bears in the rain in Super Bowl XLI in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Bears fumbled two snap exchanges. The Colts won 29-17, the first of Manning’s two Super Bowl rings.
A master at his craft who took no shortcuts in his preparation, Manning became one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. The Tennessee Vols legend earned first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as announced on Saturday night.
“It’s just a time of reflection for me, for how thankful I am for all the people that have been a part of this journey,” Manning said this week. “It’s not a game or a throw that really jumps out to me that I think about, as I reflect. I think about the relationships and the friendships with the fans, the coaches, the support staff, the friends, and certainly my time there in Knoxville was a huge part of it.”
Manning had an 18-year NFL career with the Colts and Denver Broncos. He was named Most Valuable Player five times, the most in NFL history.
How Peyton Manning learned of Pro Football Hall of Fame selection
Ashley Manning didn’t want her husband to learn of his Hall of Fame selection as if he’d won a game show prize.
The Hall of Fame’s initial plan, Peyton Manning said, apparently was to drop by his house one evening and inform him of his selection. That might have had an Ed McMahon feel to it, Manning joked.
Ashley Manning called an audible. She wanted to make it a football moment.
Peyton Manning went to Empower Field – Mile High, as it’s known to Manning and Broncos fans – for what he thought was a film session for his ESPN+ show, “Peyton’s Places.” But it was a ruse.
Coaches from Manning’s playing career emerged and each had something to say to Manning. The group consisted of Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe, his coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, at Tennessee; former Colts coach Tony Dungy; former Colts coach and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell; and former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak.
Then, on the stadium video board, Manning received messages from Tony Reginelli, his high school coach at Newman School in New Orleans; former Colts coach Jim Mora; former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore; and former Broncos coach John Fox.
David Baker, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s president and CEO, told Manning what was, by then, obvious: He’d earned selection.
“I was certainly honored with the news and very humbled, but really appreciative to find out from the coaches that were a part of my football life and football journey,” Manning said.
“It really did kind of take me down memory lane.”
Cherishing his Vols, New Orleans roots
Meticulous by nature, Manning always would look at the roster entry for his father, Archie, during his career with the New Orleans Saints.
Along with listing his name, position, number, height and weight, the entry listed Archie’s college – Mississippi – and hometown, Drew, Mississippi.
Peyton Manning continued the habit when he made it to the NFL. He’d look at the roster entry and see all the particulars, along with his college, Tennessee, and hometown, New Orleans. He enjoyed that reminder of his roots.
“I always carried those places with me,” Manning said. “Even though it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I truly kind of go in as a Colt, Bronco, Tennessee Vol and a Newman School graduate from New Orleans.”
Manning said his decision to play his senior season at UT in 1997, rather than exiting early for the NFL Draft, helped provide him with the foundation needed to endure the rigors of the NFL. The Colts went 3-13 during Manning’s rookie season, and he threw 28 interceptions, before flipping the record to 13-3 the following year.
“I don’t think I could have handled that season and the frustrations had I not stayed for my senior year,” Manning said. “I really felt by coming back to my senior year and getting stronger, more mature and just being more mentally tough, I think helped me prepare for that struggle as a rookie.”
Manning’s 71,940 career passing yards rank third in NFL history behind Drew Brees and Tom Brady. He was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection.
At Tennessee, Manning passed for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns from 1994-97. Tennessee went 40-9 during that four-year stretch. He led the Vols to an SEC title in 1997, when he was the Heisman runner-up and threw for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Manning, as a senior, was a consensus first-team All-American and won the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas and Sullivan awards, along with the Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman.”
In 2017, he earned College Football Hall of Fame induction, joining Archie as the first father-son duo to enter as players.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.