Wiedmer: Peyton still perfect as a UT alum

Wiedmer: Peyton still perfect as a UT alum

June 22nd, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

KNOXVILLE -- Atop Peyton Manning's head set an off-white Honors Course ball cap, a small but unmistakable orange "T" attached to its side. Covering his torso was a blue Honors Course golf shirt.

"I'll be back in Chattanooga in a few days," the Indianapolis Colts quarterback and our town's most famous occasional resident said Monday from the lobby of the University of Tennessee's Thornton Athletics Student Life Center.

"I'll work out at McCallie (School), lift a few weights at D-1 (Sports Training), then play golf at the Honors. That's a day that's tough to beat. Unfortunately, about the time I get my golf game back in July, it's time to go to training camp."

When it comes to being true to his school, the 34-year-old Manning is always tough to beat, especially when it comes to his Peyton Manning Scholarship. Marianela D'Aprile became its 13th recipient Monday, the award covering tuition, room and board. It is granted to a first-year student on the basis of academic achievement, leadership and community service.

D'Aprile, who was recently named valedictorian of her class at Westview High in Martin, Tenn., was a National Merit finalist and a member of the National Honor Society and received the American Chemical Society Award, among other honors. She also played varsity soccer.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with his father, former NFL quarterback, Archie Manning, after the Colts' 30-17 win over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship NFL football game Sunday, Jan 24, 2010, in Indianapolis.The Colts advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with...

"I am truly grateful for Mr. Manning's generosity," D'Aprile said as she stood in front of the Thornton Center's Peyton Manning Study Area. "By funding this gift he's giving back to his alma mater as well as fostering education, two extremely valuable deeds."

Good deeds have long separated Manning from too many of his fellow NFL superstars. He and brother Eli are about to enter into a new round of them by taping public service announcements concerning the BP oil spill ravaging their beloved Louisiana coastline.

"It's certainly been disappointing," said Manning, who grew up in New Orleans, where his father Archie quarterbacked the Saints. "Just as the city was recovering from Katrina, this happens. And it doesn't look like it's going to be fixed for a long time."

He is 34 now, winner of one Super Bowl and the loser of last winter's ultimate game to the Saints.

"I don't know if I have a chip on my shoulder or not because of it," said Manning, whose late interception sealed the Colts' demise. "Whether you win or lose, it's your job as a professional athlete to work even harder to get back there the next season.

"If you sulk too much because you lost, you're not being fair to everybody else -- your teammates, coaches and fans."

So despite training camp being six weeks away, Manning will spend the next few days on UT's campus working with the current Volunteers, including incoming freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, who's fighting for the starting job.

"I'll try to treat him like we're teammates," Manning said. "He calls me Mr. Manning, which I'm not really comfortable with, but I just want to help, try to be a resource. I'm not his coach. But I do remember what it was like the first time I started a game, and a kid's first experience needs to be somewhat positive."

If you want to know one reason why Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, consider his memory of that first start, which came against Washington State in October 1994, nearly 16 years ago.

"I remember their defense was ranked something like first or second nationally," Manning said. "Early in the game I forced a pass and a linebacker intercepted it. I had a really good view of it. But the referee ruled it incomplete. I relaxed a little after that and we won."

Looking ahead to this season, he can't wait to see what a couple of NFL rookies -- UT products Jacques McClendon (a Colts signee) and Eric Berry (drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs) -- will contribute.

"Finally got another Tennessee Volunteer in camp, and he's doing a good job. He's playing center and playing guard," Manning said of McClendon, a former Baylor School lineman.

As for Berry, the MVP quarterback has more of a request than a prediction.

"I hope he'll remember how nice I always was to him here and take it easy on me when he has a chance to hit me on a safety blitz," Manning said. "(John) Henderson and (Albert) Haynesworth haven't always remembered that."

A few minutes before D'Aprile received her award, she told Manning that she'd gone to California with her family on a vacation "just to get away for awhile."

Said Peyton: "I'm trying to do the same thing."

And right here in Chattanooga, it turns out, where both the days and the quarterback enjoying them are pretty tough to beat.