When Peyton Manning takes the stage at the CMA Awards, he’s showing up as a fan of country music as much as he is co-host of the show with Luke Bryan

Many familiar faces will be in the audience, with Peyton citing Luke, Eric Church and George Straitamong the friends he’s made in the genre over the years. 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame member says it’s been fun to follow the careers of his country music friends, including Kenny Chesney, a Knoxville native whose career was starting to take off when Peyton played college football for the University of Tennessee Volunteers in the 1990s.

“I went to school in Knoxville at University of Tennessee, so it’s hard to go to school there and not become a fan of country music. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of these singers and following them throughout their careers; 1994, 1997, Kenny Chesney was just starting his career. He was from the Knoxville area, and to watch him flourish in his career, it’s been awesome,” Peyton says. 

Peyton’s appreciation of country music has grown the more he gets to know the artists, an element he’s applying as co-host of the show. 

“That’s what country music means to me. It’s still about the people. It’s about the stories of where they came from, how hard they’ve worked to get there. But the fact that I’ve had a personal relationship with a number of them … that’s made it even more fun,” he says. “I’m still a fan of the music all the way.” 

The 56th annual CMA Awards air live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on November 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. 

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