NASHVILLE – Peyton Manning is perhaps best remembered in these parts for his playing days at the University of Tennessee, where he starred at quarterback for the Vols.
But the future Hall of Famer, who was named to 14 Pro Bowls while playing 18 seasons with the Colts and Broncos, also has a ton of ties to the Titans, past and present.
And on the night he was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Manning shared his thoughts on everything from controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk to quarterback Marcus Mariota to Titans greats Eddie George and Steve McNair to head coach Mike Vrabel, a player he competed against during his playing days.
“The Titans -- they’re a team to be reckoned with now in the AFC,” Manning said. “And it’s a real credit to (Amy Adams Strunk) and for her having a great vision to get them to where they are today with a head coach like Mike Vrabel. This is a football town. The Tennessee Titans I competed against, with Steve McNair and Eddie George, I know what it is like here when things are rolling, and I think with Mike Vrabel the Titans are in a great position and she deserves a lot of credit for that.
“I like Mike Vrabel, and I like (GM) Jon Robinson. I’m a Marcus Mariota fan. So I think they’ll have a great year.”
On Saturday night, Manning was inducted into the TSHOF on a night when Amy Adams Strunk was presented with the 2019 Tennessean of the Year.
Manning chatted with Strunk prior to the ceremony, and he gave her a shout-out during his speech at the event as well.
“I’ve gotten to know Amy,” Manning said. “Amy supports a charity fundraiser every year that I have here in Nashville for the Pat Summitt Foundation for Alzheimer's, Kenneth Adams has as well. She has supported various causes (I've been involved in). It’s a great winner for the Tennessean of the Year. She has carried on her father’s legacy and done some things unique with her leadership style and has the Titans in a great place. Bringing the draft here tells you everything you need to know how serious the NFL is about the Titans and their fan support here.
“She’s very deserving (of her award). I am proud to be here and recognized with her the same year.”
Manning, who played from 1998-2011 with the Colts, competed against McNair and George in some memorable games.
Last week, Strunk announced the team’s plans to retire the jersey numbers 9 and 27 for McNair and George.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Manning said. “It’s a no-brainer honor as far as where I come, knowing how great of players those guys were. Steve and I had a lot of battles against each other. I have great respect for his toughness – you always knew he was going to be there. He might miss a practice on a Wednesday, but there was no doubt he was going to answer the bell on Sunday even when he was hurting and beat up, because he didn’t slide. He didn’t throw it away. He was a tough guy.
“And Eddie George, I played against him in college and he’s without a doubt one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen. For the two of them to go in together – I was reading Eddie’s comments, and I know that is very special. And to have their numbers retired, that is a very appropriate honor and it shows great class by the Titans organization.”
A two-time Super Bowl champion – once with the Colts, and once with the Broncos – Manning said he also has a lot of respect for Mariota, someone he’s known since his playing days at Oregon.
Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and sons Peyton and Eli run the Manning Passing Academy each year in Louisiana. College quarterbacks act as camp counselors for more than 1,000 high school quarterbacks, and Mariota took part in the camp when he was in college.
Manning said he’s watched Mariota over the years, and thinks he’s extremely talented. He believes Vrabel’s influence will help him.
“I do a little thing for ESPN where I do kind of break down quarterbacks, and I only got to do about 6 or 7 guys last year. I didn’t get to (study Mariota in-depth), but I like Marcus,” Manning said. “I have known him since he went to our football camp as a counselor for three years while at Oregon. So these guys who have been to the camp, you kind of keep up with them and it kind of becomes like a fraternity and you pull for them.
“I pull for quarterbacks, so I hope Marcus stays healthy and I think having Mike there will establish some consistency and continuity -- that’s what quarterbacks look for is continuity. So having the same coach and hopefully the same coordinator multiple years - I know he hasn’t necessarily had that in his career - should help him. So I always pull for Marcus and wish him the best.”
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk was honored as the 2019 Tennessean of the Year at the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame banquet Saturday night. (Photos: Donald Page)