Jan. 29, 2014
By Jason Yellin
UTSports.com NEWARK, N.J.
NEWARK, N.J.-- When the Broncos and Seahawks take the field in Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday, one thing is for certain, the Tennessee Volunteers will be represented more than any other college football program. With five players suiting up for the game, Tennessee leads all colleges in the number of products set to play on football's biggest stage.
That quintet of players might also lead the league in unbridled passion for their school.
"Tennessee football speaks for itself," said Seattle defensive lineman Tony McDaniel, who played for the Vols from 2003-05. "The University of Tennessee is awesome. I am a diehard Vol, a Vol For Life."
The ultimate Volunteer, Peyton Manning, has enjoyed playing with three fellow Vols in Denver as they share a common bond from their time in Knoxville.
"It's an exciting group of Tennessee guys on our team," said Manning, who is seeking his second Super Bowl title. "We stick together. It's been fun to play with guys with the same alma mater. All of us are proud to represent the University."
From the oldest Vol in the league in Manning to one of the younger ones in second-year defensive lineman Malik Jackson, the Rocky Top connection is one that is strong.
"It's great to have so many Vols," said Jackson, who suited up in Orange & White in 2010 and 2011. "It gives you something to talk about and something to connect to.
"Peyton loves UT. You can walk up to him and say `What about those Vols?' and he will start talking to you immediately. You just love having so many guys that went to your school."
The facts are the facts, and having the most players in the Super Bowl speaks volumes about the tradition and legacy of Tennessee's program.
"Tennessee produces," said Jackson. "If you want to go to college, go to Tennessee, we are coming up. ... I just loved the whole experience."
Denver's organization features two additional Vols on its coaching staff in former signal caller Jim Bob Cooter, who works with the Broncos' quarterbacks. Former UT graduate assistant Derius Swinton also assists Denver's special teams unit.
Denver will wear orange jerseys in the Super Bowl, which is the color of choice for Vol Nation. The slightly lighter shade of orange is one that will always hold a special place in the heart of the four Broncos, set to play on Sunday.
"In Tennessee everyone bleeds orange," said Knoxville native and Broncos punter Britton Colquitt. "Its awesome we have a lot of Tennessee pride (with the Broncos). We have the most players of any college team in the game, and in our locker room, we are the most represented college team."
Robert Ayers echoed those sentiments when asked about his love for Tennessee.
"Our love for Tennessee is deep. We bleed orange, literally," said Ayers, who was a Broncos' first-round draft pick out of UT in 2009. "Every time we see each other, me Peyton, Malik (and Britton) we are talking about the Vols."
Ayers is incredibly passionate about his alma mater when it comes to all sports, which plays into the athletic department's mantra of "One Tennessee."
"I brag about it all the time," said Ayers, who helped Tennessee to the 2007 SEC East title. "I was just arguing about Lady Vols basketball (with someone). It's not just football, its every sport."
Their time on Rocky Top is ingrained in their minds.
"My best memory of Rocky Top is Rocky Top," said Ayers. "Everyone we played hated it, but for me, it gives me goosebumps. When you watch it on TV and see that orange in the stands, it always makes me have memories of being happy that I played there."
Seattle's 12th man fan support has gained loads of attention for its record-breaking decibel level, but McDaniel finds the din comparable to that of Neyland Stadium, produced by Vol Nation
"The Seattle fans and the Vol fans remind me of each other," said McDaniel. When you hear Tennessee and how loud it is and you compare to the Seahawks Stadium, you say Tennessee has a 12th man also.
Tennessee's unwavering support of its student-athletes is duly noted.
"It's a great school, great program, great people," said Jackson. "It's a school that loves you forever."