Staff drawing by Mark Wiedmer / After a legendary career at the University of Tennessee, quarterback Peyton Manning became the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft and led both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl titles. His legacy, which includes five NFL MVP awards, is being celebrated this weekend as he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Like so many other folks throughout the Volunteer State, Indianapolis and Denver, Brandon Born will be glued to ESPN at 7 p.m. Sunday to watch Peyton Manning's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

But Born — the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball great and longtime friend of Manning — believes the former University of Tennessee, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback deserved his unanimous vote into the Hall of Fame on the first year he was eligible for far more than his two Super Bowl rings, 539 career touchdown passes, 40.8 miles of passing yards (actually, 71,940 yards) and five NFL MVP awards.

"Look what Peyton's done off the field in every city he's lived in," Born said. "There's his Peyback Foundation, the Peyton Manning Scholarships at UT, the children's hospital in Indianapolis that's now named for him, plus all the wonderful things he does for people you never hear about because he doesn't want you to."

He apparently so doesn't want you to that two friends interviewed for this column demanded anonymity over concerns that Manning would be upset with them for divulging his random acts of kindness.

Born wasn't one of those, however.

"I've gotten to see him interact with people over the years in different settings — golf events, restaurants, whatever — and he treats them all the same," Born said. "Peyton's always kind and gracious and genuinely interested in them. When he's out in public, he's in the moment. If he's talking to you, you're the most important person in his world at that moment. I've never met anybody like him."

There is also his generosity, which the Scenic City has benefited from on more than one occasion. Almost everybody knows about the Chattanooga Heroes Fund that Manning and former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker began in the wake of the five servicemen killed by a terrorist in 2016, the fund that raised more than $1 million for the families of the Fallen Five.

Fewer people may know about the money Manning donated last year in the wake of the Easter tornadoes — money matched by the NFL — to help with rebuilding and equipment expenses at several local high schools.

Said East Hamilton football coach Grant Reynolds on Saturday of the $10,000 his program received: "Every time I see Peyton (on TV), it reminds me of his generosity. It teaches all of us that somebody that important can still be grounded in reality and help those in need."

Here are a few financial numbers from Manning and his wife Ashley's efforts to help those in need: The Peyback Foundation they began 1999 to help disadvantaged youth through such programs as Boys & Girls Clubs has provided more than $15 million in grants since it began. The Peyton Manning Scholarship program at UT has now paid for 45 young people from all parts of the country to get a free education.

Knoxville native Christiane Alvarez, after she received her scholarship to major in biology last summer, said in a UT press release that the program "enables students like myself to pursue the privilege of higher education unhindered by financial burden. I do not take this for granted and will use these resources to grow as a student and give back to the community."

Then there are the less obvious gestures of kindness. Born recalled a young mother who was a huge Tennessee football fan and received a cancer diagnosis. Manning called to lift her spirits. But what most amazed Born was that he called her again a couple of months later to check on her. Then again a few months after that.

"Most people in his position just don't do that," Born said. "Even those who call once never make that second or third call."

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Peyton's parents, Archie and Olivia, certainly deserve much credit for this. Archie being something of a football legend himself, particularly in the South, they have long understood the power for good an athlete of Peyton's stature can wield if only he will.

Perhaps that's why longtime UT administrator Carmen Tegano said a few years ago of Peyton's personal involvement with the Manning Scholars program: "It doesn't just have his name on it. He reads the applications. He helps pick the winners. He's very hands on. But he's that way about everything."

These are far from the primary reasons a bronze bust of Manning will be on permanent display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, of course.

As former Colts general manager Bill Polian — the man who made Manning the overall No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft — told this past week: "Peyton changed how a quarterback was playing everywhere in football because he controlled everything at the line of scrimmage."

Added former Colts coach Jim Caldwell in that same article: "You will never find anybody in the history of the game that works like he worked. No one. I've been around a long time, and I've seen a lot of hard workers, coaches and players. No one measures up to him."

Born said Manning works at everything, especially when competition is involved.

"You should see Peyton cast a fly," he said of the Volunteers legend's fishing prowess. "He can drive the golf ball so far you can't see it land. He can hit every putt when he needs to. I've never seen him shoot a basketball, but he'd probably hit them from 40 feet, just like Larry Bird."

And he's never forgotten where he came from when it involves UT football.

"We trade texts all the time," sophomore quarterback Harrison Bailey said this past week. "I can ask him anything and he'll get right back to me."

Said Vols offensive lineman Cade Mays, whose father Kevin played with Manning at UT: "He's a great example that Tennessee football is forever. It doesn't stop when you leave here. It's always a part of your life."

Football in one form or another — high school, college or pro — has been a part of Mike Keith's life since long before he became the radio voice of the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Once a member of the Vols' radio network, his job was often to interview players after games, be they wins or losses.

On Nov. 9, 1996, his rather uncomfortable task was to attempt to interview UT players in the bowels of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium after the Vols' shocking 21-17 loss at Memphis.

"I'm standing in this empty shower room they'd set aside for us, and I'm thinking nobody is going to come talk to me," Keith recalled. "From a professional standpoint, biggest challenge of my career. Well, I turn around and there's Peyton. He asks, 'How long before we go on?' He did that interview without being asked. Then he takes all the blame for the loss, which wasn't the case at all. But at that moment I knew he was way more special than just a great football player."

Keith paused, then added: "If Peyton hadn't been a unanimous Hall of Fame pick, they shouldn't have the Hall of Fame."

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Mark Wiedmer

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