Jason Davis: Tennessee is Peyton’s place

Feb. 03, 2014 @ 01:44 PM

I remember Oct. 1, 1994, like it was yesterday.

It was a relatively warm day, clear, with no rain. My father and I sat on Norris Lake in our old Alumacraft fishing boat, casting lures toward the bank and listening to the crackling AM/FM radio installed in the dash.

John Ward and Bill Anderson were on the air discussing the Vols’ season thus far — 1-3 with painful losses to UCLA, Florida and Mississippi State. The Vols had already lost two starting quarterbacks — longtime Health Shuler backup and season starter Jerry Colquitt and future MLB all-star Todd Helton.

And the Vols were going to go with that skinny Manning kid.

As a 16-year-old sports fan and regular in section PP of Neyland Stadium, I was ticked off.

Branndon Stewart — that’s right, the letter “n” times two — was my choice to start for the Vols. He was exciting. He could do things with his feet.

That Manning kid was gawky, gangly, maybe even a little goofy. And he was getting the position because of his daddy. After all, my own father — who’d lived through Archie’s time with Ole Miss — acted like the senior Manning was some kind of southern football royalty.

I, personally, couldn’t believe Coach Fulmer and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe — who I’d regarded as a genius for his sculpting of former Vols’ QB Health Shuler — were buying into the hype.

It turned out I was no football talent scout.

Twenty years later, Peyton’s playing in his third Super Bowl today in the wake of what’s sure to be his fifth MVP season. Stewart, who did lead Texas A&M to 23 wins as a starter after transferring, now heads a company that does social media marketing in Austin, Texas.

While Peyton wasn’t my first choice, it didn’t take long for me to realize I’d backed the wrong horse. In fact, sitting on the boat that day listening to the slim 10-9 win over the Cougars — a team that had just trounced the UCLA squad that beat Tennessee in the season opener — I figured the Manning kid just might have a real future.

Over the next 3 1/2 seasons, like everyone else in East Tennessee that followed the Vols, I became a Peyton devotee.

Never a fan of any particular NFL team, I’ve been a bandwagoner during Manning’s time in the NFL. As a matter of fact, I’ve probably watched 75 percent of the televised Colts and Broncos games he’s played since his rookie season.

My son, 4, has also caught on. He talks about Peyton Manning anytime he picks up a football. He chooses the Broncos on any NFL-related game or merchandise.

He even requests an occasional YouTube viewing of the “Football on Your Phone” DirecTV commercial.  

It’s cute, but the boy obviously has a lot to learn about football. He often suggests Peyton should run more.

He doesn’t seem to understand about vertebrae fusions or how Peyton, when running, resembles an octopus falling from a tree.

He’s excited about today’s game though. Hopefully he’ll get to see Peyton win another title and further cement his place in NFL history.

Even if Peyton and the Broncos don’t come out with a victory, we’ll be there watching until the bitter end. But, thinking positively, chances are good we’ll see Manning leaving the field a champion.

And, for the sake of all of us Manning watchers, hopefully it won’t be the final time we see No. 18 on the field.