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Monday, January 22, 2007

One To Remember:

The Colts are my favorite team for one reason – Peyton Manning. In the nine years that I’ve watched the Colts, I’ve seen them dominate games and do amazing things on the offensive side of the ball. I’ve seen Peyton do the kinds of things that we came to expect from him when he was the Vol signal caller in the 90s (things that have spoiled us, I might add). But we also felt a sense of consternation as Peyton Manning fans because of the outcomes of his big game confrontations, most notably with the Florida Gators.

It should be noted though that football, above all other sports, is a team game. It requires contributions from everyone for success, and that goes doubly so in big games. Although sometimes is seems like it, great quarterbacks can’t win the game all by themselves. Just ask Dan Marino.

Vol fans always felt that Peyton deserved better. The Heisman trophy debacle in 1997 extended that frustration even further. No one in their right mind in 2007, 10 years later, would have chosen a journeyman cornerback over a franchise future Hall of Fame quarterback.

During the NFL draft, conventional wisdom was that Manning was superb, but Ryan Leaf of Washington State had more “upside”. Talk was of Leaf being the number one draft pick that year. To Vol fans, the fact that this debate was even happening was an insult. After watching Leaf’s career tank, and Manning flourish, the Orange Nation was somewhat vindicated.

Then came the Patriot juggernaut, led by Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck. Each time the Colts looked superior, along came the Patriots to end their dreams.

I bring up the Peyton Manning history for a reason. Vol fans live vicariously through Peyton, pull for Peyton, because we know what a special player he was in college, and how he was shortchanged during the Heisman voting in ’97. But those things affect us as fans. They don’t seem to affect Peyton. This is probably what endears us so much to the guy. He has always been unflappable in adverse conditions. Successful, not so much in the big games though – until last night. Last night, after years of hearing about how the guy just can’t win the big one, makes it all the more special.

Not only are Vol fans still as adoring of Manning as they were 10 years ago, but so it seems are his competitors. Did you see how congratulatory the Patriot players were at the end of the game? Their own success aside, I think every player in the NFL wants this kid to win a championship. And no one deserves it more than he does.

My kids are just babies. My oldest barely knows anything about football, although he recognizes it when it’s on TV. But when I’m much older and Peyton Manning is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, I’ll wax a little bit to my boys about how special Peyton was, not only on the field, but off of it. I’ll remind them of his stellar career in Knoxville, one which I witnessed in person. And I’ll tell them that while they were sleeping in their cribs, Manning was leading the greatest comeback in NFL championship history.

In an era where athletes talk trash, and behave badly, there are still a few icons that are worth admiring. Peyton is one of those few. Congratulations, Peyton Manning, for shrugging that proverbial monkey off your back, even if you won’t publicly admit that it was there. And good luck in the Big Game™ in two weeks.

.: posted by Dave 11:49 AM

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