When Peyton Manning makes his annual visit to offseason workouts at Tennessee, the reactions range from calculated cool to tongue tied.
"Some people are very much not impressed, which is fine," Manning says. "Some people are a little bit possibly awestruck. I get a lot of 'Yes, sirs' and 'No, sirs' which I'm not comfortable with that.
"I had a kid last year tell me he likes watching me play on ESPN Classic. I'm not comfortable with that, either," he joked. "I don't think I'm that old. ESPN Classic to me is Jets-Colts 1967. It's not Tennessee-Georgia 1995."
When Manning, the former Tennessee quarterback and NFL MVP with the Indianapolis Colts, drops in on voluntary offseason workouts inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center like he did on Monday afternoon, it's guaranteed to bring some kind of reaction.
For Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, it doesn't get much better than knowing his team is working out alongside Manning and Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, another former Vol on hand for Monday afternoon's workout.
"It's really neat to see, and we really open our doors up to all former players to be around and work out and be around our guys and keep the great tradition of the Tennessee family," Kiffin said. "Peyton's so good with the guys, working with them and coaching them and teaching them. It's great to have them around."
It's at least the second time Manning has met with Kiffin and UT's new staff face-to-face in the last six months. But he's made many more trips back to his alma mater to work out with players in the offseason. In fact, the tradition even predates Manning's time at Tennessee.
And his annual visit is another way that Manning - who endows an academic scholarship and whose charitable foundation donates thousands of dollars to East Tennessee charities - gives back to Tennessee.
"I do enjoy it because I remember when I was in college, whether it was Heath Shuler coming back or various NFL guys coming back, it was a big deal to be around them and to ask them questions," said Manning, who added that several other former Vols like Al Wilson and Jamal Lewis also have come back from time to time. "And for them just to spend time working out with us and talking to us. I remember the impact that had on me as a young player.
"I enjoy doing it, and if I can help Jonathan Crompton with some things or Eric Berry - he doesn't need a lot of help at all - with some things, I enjoy doing that. I think that's kind of part of being a good ambassador for the university, and other players do it as well. I think it's important that the players of yesteryear still continue to help the guys of tomorrow."
For the quarterbacks, it's a first-hand chance to learn from the school's all-time leading passer and one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
"We can't be down there working with them, so who better to be down there working with them than probably the best quarterback to ever play the game?" Kiffin said. "I couldn't imagine a better situation than having him back here."
Manning said he likes the Vols' enthusiasm and energy, even as he continues to build a relationship with a new group of coaches.
"I'm kind of getting to know their system and their philosophies like the current players are," Manning said. "It's going to be a tough, challenging season. The SEC in my opinion has gotten just like the NFL. Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday or Sunday. Unbelievably competitive. It's going to be a challenge, but I know this group is working hard, which I think is really important at this point in time."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.