Peyton Manning was a star from the time he stepped foot in Knoxville. As a freshman in 1994, the son of NFL great Archie Manning went 7-1 with a Gator Bowl win after taking the reins.
By the end of his sophomore year, he was an All-American, and well on his way to an eventual Heisman nomination and the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft.
But there was one game that sophomore season — 20 years ago — when Manning’s star exploded; When he jumped from “nationally known” to being perhaps the most popular player in college football.
On Oct. 14, 1995, Tennessee walked into Birmingham with the weight of a nine-game losing streak to Alabama on its shoulders. ESPN was in town.
Manning didn’t waste much time showing off.
“It took the University of Alabama nine years to build its streak of dominance against Tennessee,” Tuscaloosa News sports editor Cecil Hurt wrote afterward. “It took the Volunteers just 14 seconds to wipe it all away.”
Outside of the 1997 SEC Championship season and his individual accolades, that one throw ensured Manning will be worshipped by Vols faithful until the Earth implodes and brings Rocky Top with it.
He had plenty of other big moments in the 41-14 win, earning ESPN’s “Player of the Game” after completing 20-of-29 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
The other classic play was a bootleg rushing touchdown that completely fooled the Tide and put the visitors up, 21-0, in the first quarter.
Manning was simply masterful.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference if we had used a hundred defensive backs tonight,” Alabama defensive coordinator Bill Oliver told The News.
The win was Tennessee’s first over ‘Bama since 1985, and the Crimson Tide’s worst loss since a 35-0 drubbing at Florida more than four years prior.
Philip Fulmer’s Vols defeated Alabama in seven straight games from 1995-2001, sandwiching the school’s sixth national title in 1998.
But Alabama currently has an eight-game winning streak of its own in the series. Nick Saban has defeated Tennessee in every season since he took over in 2007, with seven of the eight games being blowout victories.
Saturday’s contest (3:30 pm ET, CBS) marks the schools’ 97th meeting since their first dustup — a 6-6 tie — in 1901.