Manning joins online class to cheer UT students

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Some University of Tennessee students, growing a little bored with online courses during the COVID-19 outbreak and campus-wide shutdown, received a nice jolt Thursday morning from one of UT’s most famous alums.

Peyton Manning “crashed” his former professor’s Communications 499 class, surprising the students and doing his part to try and lift their spirits.

John Haas, one of Manning’s favorite professors when the star quarterback was in school, was in on the surprise. “Vols help Vols,” said Haas, who set up Manning’s appearance perfectly.

A few minutes into the class, there’s a ding, and Haas says, “Mr. Thompson, I think you’re late for class.” Manning, wearing a visor with the Vols’ trademark Power T, pops up on screen with the other students via Zoom videconferencing and says, “I’m sorry Dr. Haas. It’s been a while. It’s been at least since 1996 or 7 since I’ve been in a class.”

Haas, trying to keep a straight face, quips, “If you were here, I’d be making you run the stadium steps for being late,” drawing a hearty chuckle from the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.

Manning then offers the students some advice, and by this time they have figured out just who this mystery student is that popped in late for the class. Some of their expressions are priceless.

“I realize this is probably not the ideal way you guys expected to spend your senior year,” Manning tells the class. “I just encourage you to keep a positive attitude, keep working like you’re doing and try to take a little bit of the extra time you have to accomplish something else or help out somebody in need. There are a lot of people hurting out there during this time.

“Be thankful for what you have and just know the University of Tennessee is proud of you and going to support you every way they can, and Dr. Haas and his department are going to do the same thing.”

Immediately, there are several “thank-yous” and even a “Thank you, Mr. Manning.” Haas jokes that Manning may be launching a new career if he “enjoys at-home teaching” and throws out the possibility of Manning attending grad school at Tennessee.

“I’ll make sure to save an assistant-ship for you,” Haas says. Manning signs off with a “Go Vols!” and Haas reminds his students that they never know who might pop in, to which one star-struck female student gasps, “I didn’t even put on makeup this morning.”

Before rising to NFL stardom, Manning carved out a legendary career at Tennessee and remains one of the most beloved figures in school history. He turned down the chance to be the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NFL draft and returned to school for his senior season and led the Vols to the 1997 SEC championship.

Manning, who had his No. 16 jersey retired by Tennessee in 2005, passed for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns during his college career. He returns to campus every summer to recognize his Peyton Manning Scholars, an endowment he created in 1998 that provides a four-year scholarship to incoming students at the University of Tennessee.

In 2018, Manning also honored Haas by donating $1 million to UT to establish the John Haas Student Experimental Learning Endowment. Haas is a longtime director and associate professor in the College of Communication and Information’s School of Communications Studies.

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