KNOXVILLE, Tenn — It was never a matter of 'if,' only a matter of 'when.'
Five-time NFL MVP, two-time Super Bowl champion and Tennessee football legend Peyton Manning was chosen Saturday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2021. He is the third former Vol to be elected into the Hall of Fame, joining Doug Atkins and Reggie White.
Manning earned the honor on his first nomination - he was one of four players to be named a modern-era finalist during their first year of eligibility this season.
Manning is already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
Manning, drafted No. 1 overall in 1998 out of the University of Tennessee, played from 1998 through the 2015 season, retiring in March of 2016. Manning spent 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Denver Broncos.
Manning won the Super Bowl twice in his career, once with the Colts in Super Bowl XLI and once with the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. He was the first starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two different teams. Tampa's Tom Brady joined him in that category Sunday.
Manning finished his NFL career with 71,940 passing yards and 538 passing touchdowns. Manning was named first-team All-Pro on seven different occasions and made the Pro Bowl 14 times. He holds the record for most passing touchdowns in a season (55), most passing yards in a season (5,477) and most touchdown passes in a game (7, tied).
"Peyton Manning is one of the greatest players in NFL and college football history," Phillip Fulmer, who coached Manning for his four years at Tennessee, said. "His fantastic work ethic, desire to prepare, intelligence, recall, recognition and in-the-moment reaction to defensive schemes or techniques are well documented. Those are all Hall of Fame traits."
Manning's career at Tennessee has yet to be duplicated by another Volunteer quarterback. Manning played from 1994-1997, setting 42 NCAA, SEC and Tennessee records in the process. In 1997, Manning was named the Maxwell Award winner, the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award winner, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, Player of the Year and All-American.
"However, Peyton's greatest gift may have been his ability to instill confidence in the locker room because of all those amazing traits," Fulmer said. "He appreciated his teammates and knew he could not be successful without them"
He finished runner-up in the 1997 Heisman Trophy balloting. Manning was 39-6 as a starter.
"It's a time of reflection for me, for how thankful I am for all of the people who have been a part of this journey," Manning said. "It's not a game or a throw that really jumps out to me that I think about. I think about the relationships with the fans, teammates, coaches, support staff and friends. Certainly, my time in Knoxville was a huge part of it.
Manning threw his first touchdown as a Volunteer against Mississippi State after coming into the game due to injury. His first start game against No. 17 Washington State, a 10-9 win in Neyland Stadium. Manning still holds the Tennessee passing records in the following categories:
-Passes had intercepted (4)
-Touchdown Passes (36)
-300-yard games (10)
-Touchdown Passes (89)
-300-yard games (18)
-QB Wins (39)
-QB Win percentage (.867)
Manning's No. 16 is one of eight retired Tennessee football numbers.