Hint hint? Omaha! Omaha! “Is there a chance down the road that he can be enticed to run for the United States Senate,” retiring US Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) asked rhetorically, “or something like that? I hope so.” If Peyton Manning decided to run for Corker’s seat, he’d be “unbeatable,” and would put his remarkable intellectual gifts in service to Tennessee’s constituents — but Corker’s still skeptical that Manning would choose to do so now:

In fact, Corker told reporters that his good friend Peyton Manning pleaded with him via text not to “fan the flames” about his potential interest in the job. Clearly that didn’t work, so Manning decided to address it directly instead. Manning pooh-poohed the idea in an interview with a Nashville radio station, saying that he follows rumors of his post-retirement plans with a great deal of amusement:

“Someone said I was gonna run a team, somebody said I was going to be a broadcaster, now they’re saying I’m going to be a senator. Next week I’m going to be an astronaut,” Manning joked.

Manning said he has an “interest in politics and in our country,” but has no interest in being a politician.

“I am grateful for (Sen. Corker’s) friendship and I wish him and Sen. (Lamar) Alexander would stay in office until they were 100 years old,” Manning said.

If Corker’s right and Manning does have a down-the-road interest in political office, it would be a mistake to pass on this opportunity now. He has a friendly and popular incumbent retiring in a safe environment from a seat that typically will get tied up for multiple terms. He could wait for Alexander to retire, but he’s 77 and just started his third term. Senators have a habit of sticking around well into their 80s and beyond. In fact, Dianne Feinstein’s still mulling over whether to run for a sixth term next year at age 85, while polling suggests that voters may have grown tired of her.

It could be two decades before Manning gets an opportunity to run for a Senate seat. By that time, Manning’s fame and connection to popular culture will almost certainly have long faded. Selling pizzas isn’t going to sustain his political viability, and neither will his charitable efforts, as laudable as those may be. Fame is his major asset, and fame is rather notorious for fading suddenly and irrevocably. When was the last time we’ve thought about Joe Montana or Dan Marino, just to use a couple of examples? It may not be now or never, but you can see that intersection from here, at least.

If not Manning, then which Republican steps into the spotlight? CBS reports that Governor Bill Haslam might take a crack at it, since term limits prevents another run for his current office:

Tom Ingram, a campaign strategist for both Corker and Haslam, said he expects the governor to seriously consider a Senate bid.

“While I don’t think Haslam has any burning desire to run, I think he understands the importance of the office and of public service,” Ingram said. “Bob’s leaving big shoes to fill, and I think it’s going to take the right person to fill them. I hope the right person will step up to it.”

The governor laughed off questions last week about whether his newly announced policy cracking down on food stamp requirements might be designed to curry favor with the right wing of his party as he considers his political future.

“One hundred percent, no,” he said. Pressed specifically about his Senate plans, Haslam said: “I love my job, thanks.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn might make a run for the seat as well, and would be a good candidate. One has to think that Manning could clear the field if he decided to jump into the race himself. He’d better not wait for Alexander’s retirement to yell “Omaha” if he wants to score a Senate seat.