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Spare us the cynicism about how star athletes probably rarely attend classes. After all, retired NFL star Peyton Manning showed up at school this week when he didn’t even need to be there.

Manning crashed a University of Tennessee class taught by one of the favorite professors from his college days to brighten up a day of learning for current students forced to take classes online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peyton Manning goes back to school

University of Tennessee professor John Haas had started his Communications 499 class for about two dozen students attending via Zoom online conferencing when a bell signaled the arrival of a new viewer and Haas said, “Mr. Thompson, I think you’re late for class.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Haas,” replied Peyton Manning, who was wearing a visor to help mask his identity. “It’s been a while. It’s been at least since 1996 or ’97 since I’ve been in a class.”

Students quickly started to catch on to just who was crashing their lecture and some could be seen with looks of disbelief over the appearance of the retired quarterback who has Super Bowl victories with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos to his credit.

Haas rolled with the interruption, telling Manning, “You know, if you were here, I’d be making you run the stadium steps for being late.”

Manning, 44, attended Tennessee and became one of the all-time great Southeastern Conference quarterbacks while earning his degree in communications before going on to become the No. 1 overall selection in the 1998 NFL draft.

Manning delivers a message to students

School officials have been working with Peyton Manning and other famous Vols alumni to drop in on online classes to boost morale.

Manning was doing more than just pranking a favorite professor from his college days when he interrupted a senior-level class Thursday. He delivered some encouragement to students, many of whom are in their final semester and had been looking forward to some spring fun ahead of graduation.

“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. (There are) a lot of people hurting out there during this time.”

Students thanked their celebrity guest and Haas wrapped up by offering Manning a graduate assistant position if he ever wanted to return to school to work on an advanced degree.

His classroom days are over, but Manning remains connected to Tennessee. He donated $1 million to the university in 2018 to establish the John Haas Student Experimental Learning Endowment and has also endowed four-year scholarships at the Knoxville school.

What else is Peyton Manning up to now?

Football fans and television network executives have been waiting for several weeks to see if Peyton Manning will finally accept a job doing color commentary on NFL games.

Manning has reportedly been at the top of ESPN’s wish list for “Monday Night Football” almost since the day he retired after the 2015 season with 539 regular-season touchdown passes and 71,940 yards through the air for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

He has resisted the overtures thus far, but ESPN has continued to hold out hope that Manning will eventually agree to enter the broadcast booth.