Manning humbled by UT's retirement of No. 16

It's hard to overshadow Steve Spurrier's return to Neyland Stadium.

Peyton Manning did it with ease.

Manning was on hand during Saturday's Tennessee-South Carolina game for a pre-game ceremony to retire his No. 16 jersey number, which he wore from 1994 to 1997.

"I feel one of the most significant honors a player can have in his sport is to have his number retired," Manning said. "Certainly for me to have that at Tennessee, it's with great pride."

Manning is now an All-Pro quarterback for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

Manning was joined during the ceremony by his parents, Archie and Olivia Manning, his wife, Ashley Manning, university president John Peterson, athletic director Mike Hamilton, UT coach Phillip Fulmer, former UT assistant coach David Cutcliffe and UT's 2005 team captains.

"I promise you," Manning told the crowd after a video highlight montage, "I'll always be a Tennessee Volunteer."

Senior quarterback Rick Clausen will wear No. 7 for the rest of the year instead of No. 16, which he wore previously.

Clausen's brother, Casey, wore No. 7 when he played at UT 2000-03.

Manning is one of three former Vols to have his jersey number retired this season. The late Reggie White's No. 92 was retired during a pre-game ceremony on Oct. 1 when UT beat Ole Miss 27-10.

"The Minister of Defense", as he was nicknamed, was a UT defensive lineman 1980-83.

Doug Atkins will have his No. 91 jersey number retired on Nov. 19 when the Vols host Vanderbilt. Atkins was a UT defensive lineman 1950-52.

"To have my number retired here," Manning said, "along with Reggie White and Doug Atkins, is the greatest athletic honor I've had."

White and Atkins' numbers will no longer be used once the players wearing the numbers have finished their UT careers.

The three are the first to have their jerseys retired strictly for on-field accomplishments. Bill Nowling (32), Rudy Klarer (49), Willis Tucker (61), and Clyde "Ig" Fuson (62) had their jerseys numbers retired after they were killed in World War II.

Manning is the most decorated student-athlete in UT history. He left Tennessee as the SEC's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards.

During his NFL career, Manning has earned Pro Bowl honors five times in his seven seasons and has been named MVP each of the past two years.

Manning's 30,993 passing yards is nearing the all-time top 20. Manning threw for an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes last season.

Manning further endeared himself to UT fans when he decided to return for his senior season instead of forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. Manning was projected as the top pick in the draft as a junior in 1997.

"That's one of the best decisions I've made in my life," he said.

Manning made a weekend out of the trip to Knoxville. The Colts have a bye week.

Manning attended a UT practice, spoke to the team and participated in the pre-game Vol Walk amid thousands of fans that showed up early to see the former Vol.

"Fan would like for this team to be 6-0 instead of 3-3," Manning said before the game. "A lot of places, you wouldn't have this kind of turnout.

"That tells you what kind of fans these people are."

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