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Tennessee loves Peyton, even as a Bronco

Being a third-string quarterback in SEC football is somewhat like being the secretary of state. It’s a great position to have, but it’s not as nearly prestigious as being the president. Your chances of becoming the No. 1 quarterback or even an NFL prospect are slim. The love for the game is the sole motivation for suiting up week in and week out.

Peyton Manning was in that very same position at the University of Tennessee more than 15 years ago. He shocked SEC fans when he chose to play in Knoxville rather than at Ole Miss like his father Archie had done. While I can’t remember the reasoning behind his decision, I remember how quickly he became a household name in the state of Tennessee once he started singing “Rocky Top.” Just to show what a big deal he became, Social Security administration data shows that the name Peyton jumped from 96th to 51st from 1995 to 1997 in popular boy names in the state.

Just as quickly, all the boys (and some of the girls) on the playground had those obnoxious orange and white jerseys with the No. 16 on the back, dreaming of being able to throw a touchdown pass into the checkerboard just like Peyton. The team rallied behind the young freshman, eventually building a program worthy of a national championship in 1998.

While Peyton himself never won the national title or the Heisman Trophy, he simply could not be stopped. He became the No. 1 NFL draft pick in 1998, and began his career for the Indianapolis Colts. Once again, he helped build a program and shattered NFL record books. Of course, Vol Nation cheered him every step of the way.

Granted, I’m a Georgia fan, tried and true. Still, I appreciated Manning growing up. He’s one of the good guys of football. That’s why I’m slightly surprised he chose to play for the Broncos rather than the Titans after being released by Indianapolis, where he played for 14 seasons. Sure, he had great workouts with Denver and San Francisco, but he has a following in the Volunteer State that teams like Denver and San Francisco simply don’t have.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed. Nashville is disappointed. The whole state is disappointed.

I would even bet Tim Tebow is disappointed. After a less than stellar season with the Broncos, he’s being kicked out of town and replaced by the veteran Manning, someone who never won the Heisman or a national championship. Ideally, I would have liked to see Manning help refine former Florida Gator Tebow as a pro, passing the torch from one great former SEC quarterback to another. But that’s another story.

Perhaps the greatest winner out of the teams involved with Peyton Manning’s whereabouts will be Indianapolis after all. They’ve got a clean slate and will likely land Andrew Luck, the safest NFL quarterback prospect in the draft since, well, Manning. They get to build a new identity on their own terms while Denver takes a risk on a record-breaking 36-year-old quarterback with a bum neck.

Sports editor Katie Greene is a sophomore mass communications major.

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