Peyton Manning and Kenny Chesney have been friends for a long time — long before either of them were household names. The former pro-football player and the country music superstar met while Manning was still playing for the University of Tennessee, and Chesney was a rising star, who was just beginning to make his mark in music. Amazingly, throughout their busy careers, and massive fame and notoriety, the two have continued to remain friends through it all.
“It’s been a great friendship,” Manning revealed on Apple Music Country’s Bootleggers Radio with Luke Combs. “[It] started a long time ago, Luke, I want to say 1996. Met Kenny on the sidelines of a Tennessee-Alabama game. Kenny was a diehard Tennessee fan growing up, going up in the East Tennessee Knoxville area, played the National Anthem, sang ‘Me and You’ I think at halftime and hung out on the sidelines for the game. And he was into it. He wasn’t just thinking it was cool to be on the sidelines. He was into the game and you felt that.”
After that game, the two stayed in touch, which happened to coincide with when Chesney’s career started taking off.
“I saw him play a couple of shows at a fair in Knoxville, up in Bristol,” Manning recalls. “A lot of his songs were coming out at the time. And you felt that connection going to school in Knoxville and following a guy that was from the area. You felt even a closer bond with that performer. And Kenny ended up singing at the church at my wedding. He performed ‘Me and You’ for my wife and I for our first song at our wedding reception. [We’ve] just been good friends since then. Seen him in concert a bunch.”
Back when fans could still attend concerts, Manning also joined Chesney on stage for several of his shows, although he admits that he is much more talented in sports than singing.
“I’ve been on stage with him too many times,” Manning says. “I apologize to all the fans that had to hear me sing ‘Back Where I Come From,’ as opposed to letting Kenny sing it. But Kenny liked bringing me out there, and believe it or not, back in the pre-social media era, he actually put a guitar on me and put me in with the band. He put me in G. I don’t know what G really is, but I get in G and just stay at it. And played the whole show. What a great way to watch a concert. The sight seeing, the energy, it was awesome.”
Chesney is as much a fan of Manning as Manning is of Chesney, and maybe more.
“Peyton loves country music,” Chesney once shared (via Country Countdown USA). “I’ll never forget it. There were a couple of years, before social media, that Peyton would go on the road with us for a weekend, to play golf with the guys, and Peyton would put a guitar on. I remember a couple nights when Peyton walked on with the band and pretended to play. We wouldn’t plug his guitar in.
“People wouldn’t notice it until I started to introduce the band,” he continued. “I’d say, ‘By the way, a new member of the band over here, from New Orleans, Peyton Manning.’ And you could see the shock on people’s faces that it really was Peyton Manning. And it was all fake. Peyton only knew G-position on the guitar and he stayed there all night long.”