KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Many could have expected that Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium would one day have the name Manning above it.
After all, the most famous quarterback in Tennessee history wore the number in a record-setting career on The Hill. Furthermore, that same former student-athlete has been a passionate supporter of academics and athletics at his university since leaving campus with two degrees in 1997.
But when it was christened with its new name on Monday afternoon, Gate 16 did not have Peyton Manning’s name above it. And that is just the way the Vol great wanted it.
In front of friends, family and UT staff, Tennessee dedicated Gate 16 as Gus Manning Gate, honoring another Volunteer legend whose 64 years of service to UT has forged bonds nationwide. One of those bonds was with another Manning, and though they have no familial ties, the relationship they have is very special to both.
“We’re excited to bring this to fruition,” Peyton Manning said. “Gus Manning defines what being a Tennessee Volunteer is all about. His spirit of volunteerism, flexibility to fulfill many jobs, he has done jobs that it takes 50 people to complete now. He defines what service to the university is, so Ashley and I wanted to honor him in a way that is deserving.”
Manning and his wife announced their gift to Tennessee in April, one that named the gate for Gus and the dining hall in the new dorm currently under construction in the old Stokely Athletics Center footprint for Carmen and Deborah Tegano Student-Athlete Dining Hall. Their gift also increased the number of Manning Scholars at UT from three annually to four.
The location of the gate was as significant as the number. The gate is near the statue of General Robert Neyland, who hired Gus Manning as his assistant in 1951.
“I think it’s unique and significant that he’s 100 yards from the statue of his former boss, General Neyland,” Peyton Manningsaid. “I think that’s an amazing connection and the two of them belong close to each other because they both made a huge impact on this university in different ways.
Peyton Manning entered the ceremony by declaring Gus the “Manning of the hour.”
“Well that’s right,” Gus said later. “But I think he comes in there close. This Oklahoma game will be my 442nd consecutive game I’ve seen here in this stadium and it’s an honor to be a part of that.”
Gus’s history is something that Peyton hopes all that walk through the gate that now bears his name will understand and appreciate for generations to come.
“There are a lot of people that know Gus that don’t quite know his history and his service,” he said. “I think it’s important that they will know about it now. They are entering through Gus Manning Gate and they can read his bio on the plaque and understand what all he has done for this university. He truly has made it a better place in his 64 years of service here. It will be there forever and we’re proud of that.”
When he enters Neyland Stadium for that 442nd-consecutive home game on Sept. 12, Gus will not walk through his gate, for a very simple reason.
“Oh no, I’m a habitual free-cash customer,” he said of taking his seat on press row.
In fact, as the longtime ticket manager and director of the business office, Gus said with a smile that he did not want anyone entering his gate unless it was a full-paying customer.
“None of these people today are going to be coming through there either,” he said as he gestured to the crowd that had gathered to take pictures. “They’re all freeloaders.”