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It has been 19 years since Peyton Manning wore the orange and white as the signal-caller on Rocky Top. At Tennessee, he got robbed of the Heisman Trophy and set passing record after passing record as a Volunteer.
But to not include the future first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer's retirement among UT's biggest storylines this offseason would be ridiculous.
Manning is synonymous with Tennessee.
He's the brother who shunned father Archie's legacy at Ole Miss to head to Knoxville to play for Phillip Fulmer and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. He's the legend on the tip of every recruit's tongue when mentioning UT as a team he's considering. Manning is the Vol of all Vols.
He comes back to Knoxville every offseason and works with Tennessee quarterbacks, and on bye weeks and the week before the NFL season starts, you can always find him on the UT sideline, no matter the coach, record or situation facing his alma mater.
"We are so fortunate we have Peyton as an ambassador to the University of Tennessee," Jones told the Knoxville News Sentinel's Mike Strange. "It's really hard to put into words what he has accomplished in his career. Peyton defines excellence in every sense of the word. He was prepared for every situation, and that came through meticulous work when no one was watching.''
Manning is the greatest Vol of all time because he's the most recognizable Vol of all time.
Despite some events that threatened to significantly tarnish his reputation in the past year—from the performance-enhancing drugs scandal to the Jamie Naughright allegations to his benching for a stretch of Denver's Super Bowl season—he's handled himself with class and dignity.
Manning not only has remained the face of Tennessee football for the better part of two decades, he did so while being the face of the NFL for much of his career, with his mug plastered all over commercials, billboards and in entertainment across all media.
His self-deprecating humor mixed with his intense on-field persona and willingness to always speak to reporters no matter the situation has endeared him to millions.
The Sheriff rode out on top a week ago and said goodbye to a game that's tough to envision without him.
Despite an injury-plagued final season, he was reinserted into the Broncos' starting lineup and led the team throughout the playoffs and to a Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Even in doing so, Manning wasn't his normal highlight-reel self. His passes lost plenty of zip from his glory days, and though he was never fleet of foot, it was painful at times to watch him roll out and run head coach Gary Kubiak's offense.
After securing his second title, it was time to go, and Manning did so in style. He, of course, acknowledged UT in his retirement speech, according to ESPN.com's full transcript of his speech:
Almost 19 years ago to the day, I announced my decision to forgo the draft and stay at the University of Tennessee for my senior year. It was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. I cherished my time in Knoxville, especially my senior year. And I want Vols fans everywhere to know the unique role that you’ve played in my life.
Tennessee fans everywhere can say the same.
All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.