(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) — Football legend Peyton Manning surprised University of Tennessee students in an online class Thursday.
Students in a communication studies senior Capstone class were shocked to see Manning suddenly appear on their Zoom chat after their professor, John Haas, said, “Mr. Thompson, I think you’re late for class.”
The former professional football player, a two-time Super Bowl champion, then responded, “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.”
Manning graduated from UT in 1997 and often shows off his pride for the Vols.
Manning then shared a message of hope and positivity for the students, who are completing their courses from home for the duration of the semester due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m just wanting to drop in and say hello to all the fellow communication students there, [I] realize this is a unique time and probably not the ideal way you guys expected to spend your senior year,” Manning told the students.
“But I just encourage you to keep a positive attitude, keep working like you’re doing and try to take advantage of the little bit of the extra time you have to accomplish something else or help out somebody in need — a lot of people are hurting out there during this time,” he continued.
He also encouraged students to “be thankful” for their blessings and reminded them that, “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.”
Ireland Rowe, a senior at UT, said she felt “like a 10 year old on Christmas morning.”
“When you think of UT, one of the first things you think of is Peyton Manning,” she said in a statement to Good Morning America. “He has remained connected to the university over the years which is inspiring to see. Him joining our Zoom class session was the boost of confidence we needed to finish the rest of our semester.”
She added, “It’s incredible to be able to witness moments of encouragement during a time like this, especially from a hero of every Volunteer.”
Another student in Haas’ class, Rachel Katzara, also expressed her thanks for Manning’s surprise and her professor’s part in it.
“All of us have adjusted to the online format and are trying to stay focused on the semester, and finishing strong,” she shared. “That being said, I know a lot of us are sad. We are missing our friends and professors, and navigating through the crisis like all Americans, the best we can. Our faculty at the University of Tennessee has been outstanding in this time, and the fact that they are taking time out to think of ways to keep us all smiling has been just amazing!”
Manning and his former professor have a bond that goes way back.
In 2018, the former pro donated $1 million to his alma mater to create the John Haas Student Experiential Learning Endowment in honor of Haas.
“Exceptional teachers transform your way of learning by challenging and motivating you while teaching more than just a subject,” Manning said in a statement at the time. “For me and so many others, that teacher was Dr. John Haas.”
The respect is definitely mutual. Haas told GMA that Manning “truly represents what it means to be a Volunteer in every sense of the word.”
“He’s always the first to step up and come to the aid of those who need assistance,” Haas said in a statement. “As an alum, he has stayed connected to the University of Tennessee for more than 20 years now. He has such a positive impact on our students and campus community.”
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