Tennessee to retire Manning's No. 16

Updated: October 27, 2005, 8:37 PM ET
Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- NFL quarterback Peyton Manning returns to his alma mater this weekend for a ceremony to retire the No. 16 he wore at Tennessee.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a special honor for me. It's a nice tribute," he said this week. "This is probably one of the biggest honors, if not the biggest honor, that I've received."

Manning is the most decorated athlete in school history, the Southeastern Conference's all-time leading passer and a high academic achiever. Last season he set a new NFL record with the Indianapolis Colts for touchdown passes with 49.

He is the second player this season to have his number retired in a new process established this year by the university. Reggie White's No. 92 was retired earlier this season.

Defensive lineman Doug Atkins will have his No. 91 retired on Nov. 19 at the Vanderbilt game.

Manning's ceremony will be held Saturday when the No. 23 Volunteers host South Carolina in Steve Spurrier's return to Knoxville for the first time since 2000 as Florida's coach.

Manning will join the team and coach Phillip Fulmer on the Vol Walk, a trip by foot to the stadium that includes traveling along the campus street named Peyton Manning Pass.

"It's exciting for Peyton and for our program and our fans and administration and everybody concerned to have this chance to honor one of our greats from the past. To be a part of the ceremony is really special," Fulmer said.

Manning said he will walk with the team and then "go tailgate a little and then go to the game."

"I've not been back to a game in Knoxville for a long time because I was usually going to see [brother] Eli, so this is going to be fun."

Four former Vols who died in World War II had their numbers retired in 1946, but the university shunned the idea of starting the practice again until this year.

Athletic director Mike Hamilton helped establish criteria that include major honors during college and professional careers. Any players currently wearing the numbers that are being retired will be allowed to keep them until they end their college careers.

Manning's jersey was retired in 1998 at the Orange and White game hours after he was taken as the first pick in the NFL draft.

Manning remains a fan favorite, particularly after he decided to come back for his senior season in 1997. He returns to campus at times in the offseason to meet with players and for charity fund-raisers.

"It's a special place. They really embraced me when I got there and adopted me as one of their own even though I was from New Orleans. The people are what make up the state and they've treated me well," Manning said.

The Colts are off this week before playing at New England on Nov. 7.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press