The Manning College football dynasty: Part 2 - Peyton

By George Somerville

In this series of articles George looks at the legacy which the Manning family left on College football. In part 2, its time to chronicle the huge impact that Peyton Manning had at Tennessee and the SEC!

Image credit: Sports Illustrated

In Archie's Footsteps

Archie and Olivia Manning had three sons – Cooper, Peyton and Eli.

Unsurprisingly, all three were crazy about football. But more importantly they all showed signs of being able to carry Archie’s football legacy beyond New Orleans.

Given Archie’s tenure with the Saints, the Manning family had settled in New Orleans with all three boys attending Isidore Newman High School.  You will recognise this as the same high school that Arch Manning currently plays football for, before he moves to college in Texas.

Decisions, Decisions

Image credit: AP/ Mark Humphrey

Cooper – father of Arch – was next to follow in his father’s footsteps, but I will talk about Cooper Manning later in this series when we get to his son.

Peyton had an astonishing high school football career at Isidore Newman, and much like his nephew Arch, was much sought after by schools up and down the country.

Given that Peyton played quarterback like his Dad, and with his elder brother Cooper already at the University of Mississippi, it was expected that Peyton too would end up with the Rebels.

However, in a scenario not disimilar to his nephew Arch, Peyton took time out to visit a number of schools. At one point Michigan appeared favourite to prise young Peyton north of the Mason Dixon line. Lou Holtz, then Head Coach at Notre Dame, was also very keen to have him in South Bend. Towards the end of Peyton’s campus visits it seemed Florida were in the driving seat. Florida Head Coach Steve Spurrier was incredibly confident that he had Manning in the bag. However, with Danny Wuerffel incumbent as the Gators QB1, Manning knew that he would have to sit and wait his turn. 

Peyton Manning had been very impressed by the campus in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Vols Head Coach Phil Fulmer had struck up an excellent relationship with Archie and his wide Olivia. However, what was key to Peyton’s eventual commitment to Tennessee was the relationship he established with Vols offensive co-ordinator, David Cutcliffe. This would be the start of a close relationship between Cutcliffe and the Mannings which would impact the careers of the whole family from then on.

By this point in the recruitment process, the media scrutiny had become so intense that Peyton and Archie had relocated to a hotel in New Orleans to escape the constant attention. The story was so huge that Sports Illustrated ran it as a cover story while they awaited Peyton’s decision. Peyton subsequently decided that Tennessee was where he wanted to go – a decision he made before his arranged visit to Gainesville to meet the Gators.

Manning notoriously announced his decision from the sports bar located in the hotel that he and Archie had relocated to. The rest, they say, is history.

It’s fair to say that Ole Miss fans were not impressed by Peyton’s decision. Archie and Olivia received many angry and obscene phone calls, and Rebels fans never let Peyton forget about his decision any time they faced Tennessee. 


Image credit: Ole Miss FB Twitter

Rocky Top

Image credit: Porter Binks/USA TODAY Sports

Expectations amongst Vol nation was sky high following Peyton’s commitment. As a freshman he started the season as third string quarterback. However, his opportunity came quickly with the Vols starting QB getting injured in his first game. Manning’s debut was unremarkable – not completing a pass – and gave no hint of what was to come.

His next opportunity came again as a result of injury. In the fourth game of the season, against Mississippi State the Vols starting quarterback was once again injured – with Peyton Manning taking his place under center. While the Vols would lose this game 24-21, Manning threw two touchdowns and impressed the coaching staff. He impressed so much that he was named the Vols starting QB for the next game and thereafter the rest of the season. 

From that point Peyton Manning remained the starting quarterback at Tennessee for the rest of his college career. 

In his first season, Tennessee finished with a winning season and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Peyton Manning finished the season with 1,141 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions. 

A star was born.

The Best Was Yet To Come

Image credit: University of Tennessee Athletics/ SB Nation

By his sophomore year, expectations had grown significantly.

Back when Manning committed, Head Coach Fulmer fuelled expectations by saying,  

“This is going to change the face of Tennessee football. We’re going to be out there competing with anybody”

Compete they did. There was no Sophomore slump for Peyton with the Vols having a 10 win season, beating both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season. Ironically, the only loss of the season came against the Florida Gators. In that game the Vols held a 30-21 halftime lead but managed to squander it to a rampant second half Gators performance. Notwithstanding this, the 10 win season took the Vols to the Citrus Bowl, where they defeated Ohio State ranking them third in the country. 

Manning’s season ended with 2,954 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions – and saw him finish third in the Heisman voting.

Peyton Manning was living up to his potential – and to Archie’s legacy. The Vols were on the march.

Those Pesky Gators


The Gators continued to play a cameo role throughout Manning’s college career. In his junior year, the Vols started the season ranked  #2 in polls.

Tennessee started hot as predicted, winning their first two games. However the nex, Florida were the next opponents, and again the Vols were snapped up by those pesky Gators losing 35-29 – in a game where Manning threw 4 interceptions. Florida was fast becoming Manning’s bogey team.

Tennessee had another successful season, but a loss to Memphis mid season meant another trip to the Citrus Bowl, where they defeated Northwestern. Manning’s 408 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Vols 48-28 win led to the Citrus Bowl MVP award.

In a season which didn’t necessarily live up to expectations, Manning’s growth continued with season ending stats of 3,287 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Peyton Manning completed his degree in 1996 and was predicted to be the top prospect in the NFL Draft.

There's No Place Like Home

Image credit: The Associate Press

Not for the first time in his college career, Peyton Manning defied expectations, foregoing the call of the NFL to play his senior year in college.

The Vols had a hugely successful year finishing the regular season with a 10-1 record. That one defeat? Yup, those pesky Gators, who Manning was unable to defeat in the entirety of his college career.

Nonetheless, the Vols progressed to the SEC Championship game against Auburn. Trailing the Tigers at the half, Manning threw 373 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Vols to a 30-29 victory and a SEC Championship. Manning was named the game’s MVP for his heroic comeback performance, in which he was injured during the game.

This victory propelled the Vols to an Orange Bowl game against #2 ranked Nebraska, in what today would have been called the College Football Playoffs. Michigan, who were ranked #1, played #4 Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Michigan were shocked to a stunning defeat by Wazzu led by Ryan Leaf, leaving the door open for the winners of the Cornhuskers v Vols game to be crowned national champions. Sadly the Nebraska run heavy offense was too powerful for the Vols, and Peyton Manning would not have a fairytale end to his college career. That fairytale ending was to be reserved for his NFL swansong.

Peyton Manning finished his final season in Knoxville with 3,819 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

In his Senior year Manning was voted an All American, Maxwell Award winner, and winner of the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas awards.

He ended his career with 11,201 yards for 89 touchdown’s.

In his final year he was runner up in the Heisman Trophy, finishing behind winner Charles Woodson.  He finished ahead of Washington State’s Ryan Leaf and Marshall’s Randy Moss in what could be described as the greatest Heisman quartet of all time.


A Tennessee Legend

Image credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

By the time that Peyton Manning declared for the 1998 NFL Draft, he had already achieved legendary status in Knoxville.

In 2005 his #16 Vols jersey was retired, with a street leading to Neyland Stadium being renamed Peyton Manning Pass.

His contribution to Tennessee sports was recognised in 2016 with his induction into the Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

In the following year he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. With Archie already inducted, they became the first father and son to be inducted into the College Hall of Fame.

And with this Peyton Manning’s lasting impression on College Football was sealed.

As we know, Manning surpassed his college achievements by winning two Super Bowl rings, and will go down as one of the greatest NFL players of all time – confirmed by his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2021.

Nonetheless, the baton of Manning greatness had been passed from Archie to Peyton. Next was Eli…….


Mock Draft

george somerville

College football writer