Oct. 23, 2010
By: JOSH PATE
UT Media Relations
One name comes to mind when discussing the modern times of Tennessee football players, and he's mostly known on a first-name basis. If one player ever took Tennessee football to a new level in this era, it was Peyton Manning. He might be among the top two players to have influenced the program, along with Gene McEver. McEver got everything started. Manning took it to new heights.
I wish we had both of them this week!
Nevertheless, Manning's career goes down with the best to have ever played the college game, no matter the color of his uniform. Fortunately for us, he wore orange. His accomplishments as a Volunteer have been properly documented and discussed, much like you would expect from a three-time All-America honoree and four-year starter.
The personal statistics built his resume, but it was his personality that built his legacy. Manning was always a team player, really a team player. He was brilliant. That shows now as he takes snaps for the Indianapolis Colts, walking from the huddle with a host of plays in his head and then reading the defense before selecting which one to call.
There may not be a better quarterback in the history of the National Football League who is as good at the line of scrimmage. Vol fans will remember he did the same thing here at UT.
For this rivalry, one Manning memory that sticks out in particular, although it happened at Legion Field in Birmingham in 1995, was when No. 16 took the snap inside the Alabama 5-yard line and faked the handoff. The defense took the bait, while Manning turned to his left side and trotted into the end zone on the naked bootleg to give the Vols a 21-0 lead on Alabama's turf. UT won that day 41-14.
The ability to call his own shot is proof of how well he knows the game. Manning studied it even when he was here. He was always a real student of the game, making preparations and examining opponents' film. But the numbers and practicing don't tell us about Manning the individual.
He was a tremendous guy. He had so much self-confidence, and it showed on the practice and playing fields. Manning was always on the upbeat; never did you see the tall kid from Louisiana on a downer. Perhaps his successes had something to do with it, but most would credit his upbringing from parents Archie and Olivia.
Manning's family influences were strong. His father, of course, played professional football so Manning was familiar with the demands of high-profile athletics. He was extremely popular on campus as his fellow students often were caught star-gazing when he walked to class. Yet that never affected his personality; he remained a down-to-earth guy. It was, quite frankly, unbelievable how well he carried himself, even as a college guy, when he made his local and national media appearances. Again, it's that family trait.
Not only was Manning a tremendous football player and personality, he was one of the top ambassadors we've ever had at UT with his leadership and everything that he did -- and continues to do. That's the definition of legend.