Friday, January 29, 2016

Coach, Put Peyton In!

It is hard to imagine now, but Peyton Manning was once a third-string quarterback. Granted, it was only because he was a red-shirted freshman. Still, there was that moment before Peyton Manning was Peyton Manning. He showed up to the University of Tennessee in 1994 just like me. The University was abuzz with its bicentennial and talking about a new era to come, little did we know it was actually to be the Peyton Manning era. My graduate work would later give me a much better academic pedigree, but that is the year I learned and grew the most. Man, did I have some spectacular failures.....doesn't everyone try and fail the hardest their first year from home? I wax nostalgic for it all now, the good and the bad memories bathed in a warm, orange light. I imagine Peyton was going through it, too, in his own way. I didn't know much about Peyton Manning at first, just the things I heard bantered about by fraternity boys.

Manning was the third-string quarterback. He wasn't even the favored freshman. That role was actually filled by Brandon Stewart, who people thought would eventually become the Vol's star QB. Shortly after the season started, the then-star quarterback Jerry Colquitt was injured (and his backup was injured too), forcing the Coach Fulmer to play the freshmen. It was super controversial at the time, but the coach put Peyton in to take over mid-game. He was booed by the crowd--booed. The fact that the game ended in a narrow defeat only gave rise to the critics, but cemented my love for Peyton. Even if it was just that moment, he was the underdog freshman just like me, each of us trying the figure it out. Critics be damned, Manning started the following week against Washington State. The Vols won, and the Vols won all but one of their remaining games, finishing the season with a victory in the Gator Bowl. Peyton Manning was basically the coolest freshman at any college. It took me a bit longer to figure out how to be a winning college student as I stumbled through the year figuratively (and literally sometimes).

The remaining years of college were marked by growth and regression for me, but were far less tumultuous than freshman year had been as I matured and settled into friendships, my major, and adulthood. All the while, there was Peyton. He was a likeable, relatable hero among us. When I say among us, I mean I had one class with him. "We" will always have the time I borrowed a pencil from him in Dr. Polios' class--his entourage looked at me like I had two heads, but I really needed a pencil. By the end of junior year Peyton Manning had miraculously earned enough credits to graduate. None of this leaving school prematurely to go pro for Peyton. He could actually walk away with a degree and a fat deal in his pocket. BUT he stayed--he stayed to be a senior with "us." Not just doing something well, but finishing what you start, makes you a legend. A lot of people said he wanted a national championship, which alluded him (the team he built won the next year). He ended up graduating in December of 1997, but he was a member of the class of 98. Though adored by millions, I doubt any carry him in their hearts like the Tennessee class of '98. We cried in real sadness when he lost the Heisman and tears of joy when he was the first round draft pick. Just at the moment when we were all ready to move onto our next chapter, he did so with utter class and distinction.

Its hard to draw much of an analogy between my life and Peyton's after college, but in some ways, all of us class of '98's are in the same place. We have had a shocking 17 post-collegiate years under our belts. We are about to turn 40--most have become parents, hopefully many of us have felt successful in our careers and personal lives. Obviously, Peyton has. We are all on the precipice of our middle-age and our next era. Mr. Manning was heard to say this may be his "last rodeo." As we close our 30's, I think we are all experiencing some last rodeos of our own. If this is it, I sure hope he wins and I sure will miss seeing play. Thanks to Coach Fulmer for putting Peyton in!


Amy at Ms. Toody Goo Shoes said...

This is a great story! I hope you kept that pencil :) I really hope they (he) wins the SB!

Our Life at 31-derful! said...

I didn't keep the pencil :(.