On Friday afternoon, I decided to attend the official dedication of Peyton Manning Pass on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.
The street – which runs in a perpendicular direction toward the west side of Neyland Stadium -- had actually been named for him shortly after he finished at UT. It was done during a brief time when then-Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe was leading a barrage of street renaming on the campus in honor of athletes and coaches.
But due to the fact that some checkerboard bricks and a giant power T tile had recently been installed on the street where the pre-game Vol Walk takes place, school officials decided to dedicate officially the street in his honor Friday afternoon.
Before the event, it had already been a memorable afternoon on campus. Just a couple of hundred yards north, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan earlier spoke at the Alumni Memorial Building, telling the audience that she likes to go bird hunting with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia.
Smokey the blue-tick hound, who enjoys doing a little hunting himself, also made an appearance at the nearby UT bookstore shortly after Justice Kagan’s appearance to help publicize a new book, “Smokey,” about him and his forebears.
I was taking an afternoon jog around campus before the Peyton Manning event was to start at 4:30, but I went by Peyton Manning Pass a little after 4 and noticed that a crowd of mostly UT students had already gathered.
I finally went down in front of the small Silverstein-Luper Building shortly before 4:30 as a small band was getting the crowd worked up with “Rocky Top” and other numbers.
Then, right at 4:30, three people walked out of the Silverstein-Luper Building. Leading the way and wearing a blue shirt without a tie was none other than Peyton Manning.
He quickly showed the amicable manner for which he is known by waving to the crowd and smiling a couple of times.
UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek was the first to speak, saying that “Pass” was appropriately suggested for the street when the renaming was taking place, but that city of Knoxville officials first balked at the idea because no road in town had been previously called a pass. But they later agreed, and today it is known as Peyton Manning Pass.
He also said that Peyton’s first gift to the university had been $75 for a brick for nearby Circle Park.
Nathan Zipper, who had been co-chairman of the 2007 Senior Gift Committee and had spearheaded along with others the idea to pay for the installation of the checkerboards and power T on the street, then spoke.
He encouraged the students gathered to find their own ideas for giving back to UT.
Then came the time for Mr. Manning to talk. Reading from a couple of sheets of paper he had with him, he recalled taking part in the Vol Walk on the street. He said the tradition began in 1993, the year before he arrived, and he enjoyed the event before every home game.
He enjoyed seeing his parents, Archie and Olivia Manning, while going down the street, he said, and the walk made him possibly more excited than he was when a game kicked off.
The veteran NFL quarterback – who led Denver to a stirring comeback last Monday and is in Knoxville for a 1997 Vol team reunion in connection with the big football game Saturday night against rival Alabama – also seemed very touched by the dedication honor.
“It’s a really humbling honor for me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he told the crowd.
Then, a few moments later, in between pictures with all the UT cheerleaders and officials on hand, he went out into the crowd without being prompted and signed autographs for a few minutes.
Throughout the event, he showed the humbleness, amicability and accommodating qualities for which he was known as a Tennessee quarterback and student.
The several hundred mostly students who gathered were probably not as boisterous as they would have been had Tennessee been undefeated and not such a heavy underdog against Alabama.
But they were certainly appreciative of Peyton Manning, even though most of the students likely only know him as the NFL quarterback who used to play at Tennessee.
Peyton, in turn, was obviously appreciative of them.
Peyton Manning, in blue shirt, speaks to crowd