UT retires three jersey numbers

The University of Tennessee Athletics Department announced plans Tuesday to retire the numbers of three former Volunteer football greats. Ceremonies are planned for the 2005 season to celebrate the jersey number retirements of Reggie White (92) at the Oct. 1 Mississippi game, Peyton Manning (16) at the Oct. 29 South Carolina game and Doug Atkins (91) at the Nov. 19 Vanderbilt game.

This brings the list of retired jersey numbers at Tennessee to seven, including four former Vols who were killed in World War II and had their numbers retired in 1946.

Last year, UTAD began developing criteria to retire numbers. Those criteria include, but are not limited to: candidates must be recognized as good citizens and have a minimum of five years between the candidate's UT football career and consideration of this honor. A candidate must have achieved three of the following five collegiate honors: induction into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year, Consensus All-America, Heisman Trophy winner, and have won one of the following general athletic/academic or non-position specific awards: Sullivan Award, SEC Athlete of the Year (all sports) or Draddy Award.

Recognizing the tremendous collective impact of Tennessee Volunteers in professional football, candidates must have also achieved three of the following four professional distinctions: induction into the NFL Hall of Fame, NFL offensive or defensive MVP, Achieved Pro Bowl status in 5 seasons, and holder of a major career or season statistical record (yards, sacks, tackles, touchdowns scored or thrown).

Candidates who have been enshrined in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame will receive strong consideration for number retirement.

"We have been blessed with great tradition - established by having a great University, great coaches and great players. In establishing a set of criteria with extremely high standards, these three stood out among the rest. Saluting our history of championship teams, players and performances is vital to the continued success of any great program," said Mike Hamilton, men's athletic director. "UT has had a lot of outstanding athletes. We are constantly looking for new ways to recognize these young men for their contributions to our program. This is one way we acknowledge all they have done, and continue to do, for the University."

White, who died Dec. 26 at the age of 43, collected a school-record 32 sacks in his four years with the Vols to establish himself as the most prolific pass rusher in Tennessee history. Fifteen of those sacks came in his senior year of 1983, a campaign current Vols Head Coach Phillip Fulmer called the "most individually dominant season I've ever seen."

Known as the "Minister of Defense," White went on to a 17-year pro football tenure, retiring as the NFL's all-time sack leader with 198. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1990.

"Reggie would have been thrilled to receive this honor," said Sara White, widow of Reggie White. "The University of Tennessee had a special place in his heart. He was so committed to UT that he went back in 1990 to finish his degree in summer school so he could become a graduate of UT. Our family feels very honored that they chose his number to be the first number to retire."

Manning is the most decorated athlete in UT history. He left Tennessee as the SEC's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards, setting 42 passing records during his Vols career that included two NCAA, seven SEC and 33 UT marks. Off the field, Manning won the Draddy Award as National Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997 and graduated in three years with a degree in speech communications. He graduated with the highest grade-point average (3.61) in his field.

During his pro career, Manning has earned Pro Bowl honors five times in his seven seasons played and has been named NFL MVP each of the last two years. He threw an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes in 2004 and already has 216 for his career. Manning's career total of 29,442 passing yards is nearing the top 20 on the NFL all-time list.

"I feel one of the most significant honor a player can have in his sport is to have his number retired," Manning said. "Certainly for me to have that at Tennessee, it's with great pride. I cherish my time as a student and a player at UT, and I frequently have the opportunity to come back to Tennessee and Knoxville and continue to feel the university is an important part of my life."

Atkins is considered by many to be the greatest defensive end in football history. After originally signing with UT on a basketball scholarship, Atkins went on to gridiron All-America status in 1952, was the only player to be unanimously named to the All-SEC Quarter Century Team (1950-74) and was selected SEC Player of the Quarter Century. Atkins retired with the most NFL games played (205) by a defensive lineman.

The Vols went 29-3-1 and won the 1951 national championship with Atkins at defensive end. After his playing days, UT honored him in a ceremony by proclaiming Sept. 11, 1976, "Doug Atkins Day." Atkins also is the only Volunteer to be enshrined in both the College Football and Pro Football halls of fame.

"I'm very honored the university is retiring my number," Atkins said. ?I always enjoyed my playing days at the University of Tennessee."

The jersey numbers, which are being worn this season by Rick Clausen (16), Robert Ayers (91) and Justin Harrell (92), officially will be retired once the current student-athletes complete their eligibility.

The Volunteers retired jersey numbers 32, 49, 61 and 62 in 1946 in memory of four UT players who died in World War II.

Bill Nowling (Aug. 8, 1920 - Aug. 9, 1944), a fullback from St. Petersburg, Fla., wore number 32. Nowling was a three-year starter from 1940-42 under Gen. Robert Neyland and John Barnhill.

Number 49 was worn by Rudy Klarer (March 9, 1923 - Jan. 6, 1945), a reserve guard in 1941 and starter in 1942. Klarer hailed from Louisville, Ky.

Willis Tucker (May 10, 1918 - Nov. 28, 1944) wore number 61. The Knoxville High School graduate earned a Vol football letter in 1940 and was a sprint star on the UT track and field team.

Number 62 was worn by Clyde "Ig" Fuson (March 11, 1923 - Dec. 4, 1944), a Middlesboro, Ky., native and fullback on the 1942 team who shared playing time with Nowling. Fuson had a younger brother, Herschel "Ug" Fuson, who was a freshman on the 1942 team and transferred to Army, where he graduated.

Discussion is ongoing regarding visual recognition of the retired numbers and will be included in the Neyland Stadium master plan renovations.

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