For people like referees, the definition of greatness in a player is a little different than that of folks in the stands or in the media. Peyton Manning is one of the rare birds that is held in high regard by all three.
The Vols legend and soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was recently the subject of an amazing story told by longtime football official Butch Hannah, who is retiring after 33 years of service for revered leagues such as the SEC and the NFL.
Hannah, now 66, was featured in a great piece by Chattanooga Times Free Press writer Mark Wiedmer. And believe it or not, the Tennessee native had a fantastic Peyton Manning story to share on his way out the door after officiating the Tennessee great in both college and the NFL.
This story features late-career Peyton as a member of the Denver Broncos. And it says plenty about the kind of guy Manning was as a player. Hannah spun the yarn masterfully for Wiedmer:
“Peyton’s next-to-last year, the Broncos were facing the Dolphins in Denver and the whole game was a struggle for them,” Hannah said. “I called back two Denver touchdowns. But they pulled it out by two or three points (39-36). But late in the game, the clock about to run out, Peyton mistimed a snap and they had to run one more play. Peyton said something off-color to me, which was not at all like him.
“I told him, ‘Peyton, you’re better than that.'”
In most instances, an encounter such as this would have ended right then and there with the game’s final whistle washing away any hostility. After all, the referees hear it from all sides during every game they work at that level.
But Peyton Manning is different. More from Wiedmer:
A few weeks later, a FedEx package arrived at Hannah’s doorstep. Inside it was a letter originally sent to the NFL’s offices in New York City. The letter was from Manning.
“He said he wanted to apologize for his reaction to me that day against the Dolphins,” Hannah related. “Would I please accept his apology? That’s the only time that’s happened to me in all my years of officiating.”
Even then, the story didn’t end. A few months later, Hannah was about to umpire a preseason game between the Broncos and Seahawks in Seattle. He felt someone put an arm around his shoulder.
“It’s Peyton,” said Hannah, who’s known Manning since both were in the SEC in the mid-1990s. “He asks me, ‘Did you get my card?’ I said, ‘Peyton, you’ve got to let this go.’ He says, ‘You have no idea how upset I was with myself.’ That’s the kind of son Archie and Olivia raised. Pretty impressive.”
Great stuff from Peyton, and a great story from Hannah.
We wish the former SEC official all the best as he hangs up his whistle.