For 23 years, Peyton Manning wasn't much about nostalgia.
It's always been about what's next. On Friday afternoon in front of his weekend celebration for heading into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Vol legend was all about nostaliga.
“My dad and I just finished lunch at the Copper Cellar with coach (Phillip) Fulmer,” Manning said. “It was kind of appropriate. When I told my dad we were having lunch there he said that's where we went on your visit in 1994 during the ice storm. It was appropriate that here we are 23 years later going to the same place telling a lot of same stories we have been telling for years. It was good to see coach Fulmer. Tonight and tomorrow are going to be really special for me going into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I never really believed in looking back and going down memory lane while I was playing, but since I have stopped playing I have taken a little time to reflect on the people who were a part of my football life.”
That reflection is bringing Manning plenty of smiles and catching up on some lost time. Many of his teammates will be here this weekend, along with his family. Manning's excitement was obvious and after being around him for nearly a half hour it's safe to say retirement is treating the legend well.
Don't get me wrong, Manning has always been nice to me aside from the day I stalked him in the parking lot in 1997 trying to determine if he was going pro. But a conversation during his playing career oftentimes felt more like an obligation and a task than a talk.
These days Manning, Inc. is simply Peyton. And he's never seemed happier. Relaxed and off the cuff, Manning's media interview lasted nearly 20 minutes. He reflected on many things from storied wins to favorite hangouts in Knoxville.
“East Tennessee has been so nice to me and the Knoxville area. It's just a huge part of my life,” Manning said, when asked what are must do's when he returns to Rocky Top.
“It's getting to be around the people and seeing them whether it's Copper Cellar or Calhoun's or sneaking over to Toddy's from time to time. It closed and that was a crushing moment, but Fraz (Roger Frazier) and Carmen (Tegano) rallied and we got it opened back up. Those were places that were a part of your college experience. I just love seeing old friends. That's what I love being back here.”
Friday night and Saturday Manning will continue his reflection mode but he will also be in full learning mode. In classic Manning, the iconic Vol is not celebrating his induction alone. Teammates and his family will be here. He's also asked his Vol College Football Hall of Fame family members to be there as well. Why? Because he's Peyton.
“I was just fascinated by the history of Tennessee football when I got here. Those of you who have been around for a long time remember that at the end of the indoor facility all of the all-americans and all the great teams, those pictures were on the wall. So you saw them every day. Everyday I would see the pictures of Bobby Dodd and Hank Lauricella. It just kind of became a part of your life, recognizing the history of Tennessee football every day. It was important to me.
“It's kind of appreciation for the history of Tennessee football. It will be unique to have that group together.”
Since Manning's retirement where he closed with he closed with the declaration, “God Bless football” everyone has tried to guess what next the next step in his career. Manning's name has surfaced with possible political aspirations and many other possibilities. Friday, Manning made it clear he's pretty content.
“I'm a volunteer assistant coach on my kids flag football team. There's a lot of pressure there,” Manning joked. “The coach last year asked me to help coach and I told him I couldn't do it. He said why not and I told him I have watched your team and you have no pass plays. I can't be a part of a team that has no pass plays. We have a few more pass plays in there now. My kids are in sports. Ashley and I love being a part of that. And I don't have to miss them because I'm in control of my schedule. I'm enjoying what I'm doing now.”
I have had the pleasure of dealing with Peyton Manning since 1994. I covered him before he played his first college football team. I covered his last game in Orange and White. I have visited with him often when he has been back to town. Upon conclusion of his press conference Friday, Manning hung around a bit longer. He and I shared a few stories. We visited about old teammates of his and reflected on Georgia wins of his career.
And in 23 years of knowing the legend, he's never seemed more reflective, content or relaxed.