There are many memorable moments when it comes to all-time great quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is no exception.
However, many of those such times came long before Manning was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, won two Super Bowls or rewrote the NFL record book. Many of them came when Manning was simply a Volunteer.
Here are some of the most memorable moments of Manning’s time at Tennessee:
Just call the #&#!#* play
It’s easy to forget that Manning came to Tennessee, in part, because he didn’t want to play as a freshman. Unlike so many current prospects, Manning didn’t want early playing time. He wanted to sit, learn and prepare for the future.
Those plans came crashing down when Tennessee quarterback Jerry Colquitt went down with a knee injury early in the first half of the first game of the season against UCLA. Manning, who looked as if he weighed about 140 pounds, jogged onto the field and tried to rally the troops.
Manning tried to incite some passion in his team by telling him they were going to drive down the field and score a touchdown. Offensive lineman Jason Layman didn’t take too kindly to the pep talk from the freshman and told him to just call the play with some expletives thrown in. Tennessee’s season was off to a rough start but the future was on its way.
Manning began to assume rightful control of his team once he was named the starter after his freshman season. Therefore, he thought it was time to hold what he thought should be mandatory practices during the summer. However, he was told mandatory practices were an NCAA violation so he posted signs around the football complex with the “voluntary” practice schedule, even though they were anything but.
The message was crystal clear. Attendance was expected. Manning had asserted himself as a team leader. That wouldn’t change no matter who he played for.
Tennessee hadn’t beaten Alabama in nine consecutive attempts. Since the 1995 game was to be held in Birmingham, Ala., there was no reason to think the Vols could break the streak. That thinking quickly changed when Manning hit receiver Joey Kent for an 80-yard touchdown on the opening play of the game.
It was a sign of things to come. The Vols would win that game 41-14 and win seven consecutive games against the Crimson Tide. The play from Manning to Kent still goes down as one of the all-time favorites in Tennessee history.
Peyton can run
Manning will never be confused as a running quarterback, but his mind led his legs on a handful of occasions. Manning ran for a touchdown on a naked bootleg against Alabama in 1995, Vanderbilt in 1997 and in the Citrus Bowl against Northwestern following the 1996 season.
The key to making the play work was that Manning never told his own teammates that he was going to fake the handoff and keep the ball in order to curl around untouched into the endzone. Manning said he didn’t inform his teammates of the guise so they wouldn’t tip off the opponent.
Sneak and score
By 1996, the college football world knew about Manning. He was considered an up-and-coming star, if not a serious Heisman contender. Manning showed the nation what it had been wanting to see on a fourth-and-short against Georgia in 1996.
Deep in Georgia territory. Manning surged into the line of scrimmage on a short yardage play but found nothing there. He reacted by sprinting to his right around an official and found Marcus Nash for a touchdown pass. The Vols would go on to win 29-17.
He’s coming back
During his retirement press conference on Monday, Manning said the decision to return to Tennessee for his senior season was one of the best decisions he made in his life. It certainly wasn’t expected. Manning was likely to be the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NFL Draft so there was no reason for him to return.
Manning didn’t see it that way. In front of a few hundred media, teammates and fans, Manning announced he would return for his senior season. The reaction could be heard across campus. Of course, the pressure was then on the Vols. Manning wasn’t able to beat Florida and win a national title, but he did win an SEC title by beating Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game.