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AP photo by David J. Phillip / Former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning watches Game 2 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the host Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 25, 2017.

On the opening Sunday of the National Football League's 2020 season, leave it to future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to steal the show without so much as stepping out of retirement.

Less than two hours before the NFL's 1 p.m. kickoffs, ESPN released a story that Manning, the University of Tennessee's all-time playing great and a two-time Super Bowl champion in the pros, has endowed six scholarships for Historically Black Colleges and Universities through his Peyback Foundation.

Four of those HBCUs are in his native state of Louisiana: Dillard, Grambling, Southern and Xavier. The other two, Fisk and Tennessee State, are located right here in the Volunteer State.

Said former Philadelphia Eagles great Harold Carmichael, whose name is attached to the Southern University scholarship: "I know this is not necessarily an athletic scholarship — HBCUs are much more than that — but when I played at Southern, all I got was $14 a month for laundry, and there were times when even that money missed payments. An endowed scholarship with my name attached? I am really humbled and blessed."

It was yet another example of how blessed Louisiana and Tennessee are to be able to count Manning as a friend and someone who has called those places home.

Having grown up in New Orleans and having played his college football in Knoxville, Manning has always been more than willing to share his wealth with entities in both states, as well as Indiana and Colorado, where he played professionally for the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl with each franchise.

And Peyton being Peyton, he had asked that the donor of the six endowed scholarships remain anonymous.

But because former Washington Redskins star Doug Williams never took no for an answer in becoming the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, he badgered his friends at Grambling into revealing who donated the scholarship that will carry his name.

"I have my connections at Grambling," Williams told ESPN.com. "I made a phone call and found out it was Peyton Manning's foundation. I know he's given to a lot of wonderful causes without publicity, but this was a most pleasant surprise for me."

What shouldn't be a surprise but should be quite pleasing to those who believe not enough emphasis is put on education these days are the names that appear on three of the six scholarships. Then again, this is also the same guy who created the Peyton Manning Scholarship at UT, which is awarded to some of the nation's brightest students each summer. Counting this year's four winners, Manning and his wife Ashley have now awarded 45 such scholarships since 1998.

So while it was understandable that Tennessee State's scholarship bear the name of Wilma Rudolph, the matchless Clarksville native and late sprinter who overcame polio as a child to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics, the other three scholarships are named for educators.

Dillard University's scholarship honors Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund since 2004.

Fisk's scholarship will carry the name of the late Reavis L. Mitchell Jr., who spent 40 years as a history professor and was frequently consulted on African American heritage and often cited in publications and documentaries.

Xavier University of Louisiana's scholarship honors its school president since 1968, Norman Francis, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 for helping plan the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans and surrounding areas after Hurricane Katrina.

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AP photo by AJ Mast / Peyton Manning gestures as former teammate Reggie Wayne is inducted into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor during a home game against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 18, 2018.

We've been blessed here in the Tennessee Valley to have witnessed so many previous acts of kindness and charity from Manning and his foundation. Surely no one has forgotten the "Chattanooga Heroes Fund" he started for the five fallen servicemen killed in the 2016 terrorist attack. There are the aforementioned UT academic scholarships. Just this summer came word that Manning had sent $25,000 worth of aid to help five local high school athletic departments after the April tornado and storms, money that was matched dollar for dollar by the NFL.

And there are dozens more of these acts that are never known to the general public.

Yes, the action on the field Sunday was nothing to make Atlanta Falcons fans feel good about the start of this very odd NFL season. The Dirty Birds looked almost as bad as their predominantly black uniforms in falling 38-24 to visiting Seattle inside a fan-less Mercedes-Benz Stadium. How the Tennessee Titans will fare at Denver in the second game of the season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader that closes Week 1 is anyone's guess.

But when it comes to Peyton Manning, we don't have to guess. We already know he's a Hall of Fame person as he awaits what will surely be a first-ballot induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next summer.

For further proof, merely consider his decision not to trumpet his personal involvement in the HBCU scholarships, telling ESPN through a text message: "The Peyback Foundation is honored to partner with these six colleges to honor distinguished Alumni and staff members, and to help college students at these schools now and many years to come. Really, for perpetuity."

Ah, perpetuity, which for those who might fall short of earning a Peyton Manning Scholarship, essentially means "forever."

Which is also how long Peyton Manning is likely to be beloved by the Volunteer State and beyond.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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