A Vols’ Final Salute to Peyton Manning

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    Photo via UTSports.com

    Photo via UTSports.com

    For over two decades, Peyton Manning has been the golden boy for Vols football. From 1994-97 when he played for Tennessee and rewrote the record books to 1999-now when he stamped his name into seemingly every NFL passing record, Manning has been the one treasure nearly every Vol fan could agree on.

    And now that it looks like that ride is over, it’s time to take a look at just how much Peyton has meant to Vol fans.

    For nearly a decade, Peyton Manning has been one of the few good things Vol fans could actually root for on a consistent basis. Aside from the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Tennessee football has been in its darkest period in program history. But the one bright spot during that time has been Peyton Manning, and Vol fans gladly gravitated towards the greatest quarterback to ever play at Tennessee to ease the pain of the Vols losing.

    From 2008-14, the Vols were an abysmal 40-47 and cycled through four different head coaches in that span. Meanwhile, Manning went 74-22 (missing the entire 2011 season) and appeared in three Super Bowls in that time, winning, of course, his most recent one last night. Manning threw 224 touchdowns during that span and smashed single-season and career passing marks along the way.

    Manning was there for Vol fans when they needed him most. When Fulmer was fired, when Kiffin bolted, when Dooley made the program a mockery of its former glory, and when Butch Jones first took over, Manning was there to give Vol fans something to look forward to.

    So that’s just part of the reason why Vol fans are as excited, elated, and proud as they are after Manning earned his second Super Bowl victory.

    Peyton Manning is more than just a football player to Vol fans. For the majority of Vol fans, he’s the greatest player they’ve ever seen play at Tennessee and in the NFL. Manning and Reggie White are largely considered the two greatest Vols to ever play, and Manning has played in a time when social media and media as a whole has grown to an unprecedented level, meaning Manning has received more coverage and attention than any other former Vol in history.

    So it’s only natural that Vol fans have grown attached to Manning and have given him an almost god-like status over the years. When you own nearly every passing record at UT and in the NFL, that will happen to just about anyone.

    But it goes deeper than that. Manning’s continued devotion to his former school only stokes the fiery passion of Vol fans who root for Peyton even over their favorite NFL teams.

    It’s hard to find another NFL player that gives back to his university and stays as involved with it as Manning is with UT. Manning decided to come back to Tennessee for his senior season, and from that moment on Vol fans formed an unbreakable bond with him.

    And Manning formed a bond with UT then as well. One that is still strong and alive to this day.

    Peyton’s historic success and his love for Tennessee has made him largely the most endearing athlete to ever play at the University of Tennessee. You would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Vol fans who don’t care for Manning.

    Which makes his departure that much more painful for the folks who have cheered for him over the past two decades.

    Who will fill Manning’s void now that he is stepping down? Eric Berry is a logical choice, but even he doesn’t command the same amount of devotion Manning has. Very few athletes have ever garnered that much admiration.

    So for Vol fans, giving Manning one last salute is bittersweet. Seeing Peyton ride off a Super Bowl champion is the best way to see him go, but seeing him leave the game is the difficult part.

    Since 1994, Peyton Manning has been a focal point of football around the country. And for the first time in 22 years (sans 2011), football will be devoid of Peyton.

    But luckily for Vol fans, Manning’s departure appears to be coming at a time when the Vols are finally on the upswing again. Tennessee is poised to have its best season in over a decade in 2016, and Peyton’s ultimate achievement looks like it’s just the beginning of an exciting year for Tennessee fans.

    Peyton Manning got Vol fans through the darkest times. But now he’s gone out on top, and the Vols finally look ready to make their way to the top too.

    And who knows? Maybe Peyton isn’t done helping out the Vols just yet. Tennessee will need to hire a quarterbacks coach sometime soon, after all.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.