Vols Lead the Way at Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Induction

The 53rd annual Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony had a distinct Big Orange feel on Saturday night at the Omni Hotel.

Three former Tennessee student-athletes, Peyton Manning, Charles Davis and Kara Lawson, and a pair of former assistant football coaches, David Cutcliffe and Kippy Brown, were inducted as part of the 2019 class, while Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer hosted the event as the current chair of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors.

All five Vols found tremendous success at the University of Tennessee. However, more impressively, each used their time on Rocky Top as a springboard for even more success in their careers in the years since.

Davis is one the NFL’s top broadcasters for Fox and the NFL Network, while Lawson has risen up the ranks as one of premier analysts for men’s and women’s basketball after an outstanding professional hoops career. Manning, of course, won five NFL MVPs and two Super Bowls, and is regarded as one of football’s all-time greats. Cutcliffe turned the Duke football program into a perennial winner as the head coach and Brown won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks as an assistant.

They each cited their time at Tennessee as the foundation for their success and pointed to the relationships they built during their time on The Hill.

“Once I was made aware of this recognition, I thought about the relationships and the friendships I made with teammates and coaches, students, members of the athletic department and the entire state of Tennessee,” Manning said.  “It’s really been a very special relationship with me and the people in the state of Tennessee. I have relationships that I cherish and relationships that I still hold very dear to this day.”

Manning forged tight bonds with Fulmer, his head coach, and Cutcliffe, his quartebacks coach and offensive coordinator, during his time at Tennessee. He was especially grateful they could be in Nashville on Saturday night to share the honor with him.

“It’s very great to be with Coach Fulmer always, and he’s a very great leader for this Hall of Fame and this athletic department,” Manning said. “Coach Cutcliffe –  he’s such a mentor for me. He’s my coach; he’s my friend. He kind of remained my coach when I was in the NFL. To be in with Coach Cutcliffe, it’s very special and I’m very proud.”

Davis started four years as a defensive back for the Vols, totaling 13 interceptions and helping lead the Vols to the 1985 SEC Championship. He’s most known for being one the NFL’s leading broadcasters as well as the voice of the Madden Football video game. He remains close with teammates, coaches and faculty from his time on campus.

“I’m able to stay in touch both athletically and academically because I love everything that the University of Tennessee gave me,” Davis said.

“I was so lucky at Tennessee.”

Davis formed a special connection with Tennessee’s sports information and video staffs, as well as with John Ward, the legendary “Voice of the Vols.” 

“They helped get me to this point by teaching me and giving me a foundation, and all I ever wanted to do was to make them proud,” Davis said. “Mr. Ward gave me my first shot on the Vol Network on a spring game and taught me all of the things I didn’t know right from the beginning. And he continued to do that all the way through until we lost him. I will always be grateful to him and will always love him for that.”

Lawson was a four-time All-SEC First Team honoree on the court as well as a finance major who received the University’s highest honor, the Torchbearer Award. Her ascension up the broadcast ranks came as no surprise to her because she was prepared by playing for the nation’s top women’s basketball program. 

“I wouldn’t be doing that without my experience at UT because there’s such a media spotlight on the program and it forced you to interact with media on a daily basis – whether its print media or electronic media,” Lawson said. “It gives you a great amount of repetitions where you can get confident and where you have the ability to have success talking to the media. Now that I’m on the other side it became very natural to me early in my broadcasting career to do that because I had been exposed to so much during my playing career at the University of Tennessee.”

Lawson, also, of course, mentioned the influence of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.

“I think playing for Pat – she challenges you in so many ways,” Lawson said. “She understood where you needed to grow and where you could get better. I worked on my weaknesses a lot at the University of Tennessee and that prepared me specifically in the communications field to be able to be a broadcaster and work in different levels of basketball.”

Joining the five inductees with Volunteer ties in the 2019 class were George Taliaferro, Bob Tillman, Kimberly Anne Valek and Patrick Willis.

Source: The University of Tennessee Athletic Department