Tag Archives: Peyton Manning

Pat Summitt – In the Presence of Greatness

30 Jun

Pat Summitt passed away a few days ago. Better writers than me have written about her legacy and her impact on women’s sports. I am not going to attempt to duplicate those articles or try to encapsulate her influence in one blog post. Simply stated, her on-court records may eventually be broken, but her off-court records will stand the test of time.

Pat Summitt took a university with a deep football tradition and turned it into a women’s basketball school. She took Tennessee fans who were proud of their gridiron legends and made them more proud of the Lady Vols. She took a sport that was on the fringes of the sports pages and willed it onto the national stage. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Yesterday, someone asked if I had ever met Pat Summitt, and I was lucky enough say yes. My friend worked as an intern for the Lady Vols. A few years after graduation, we were in Knoxville, and my friend said we should stop by the offices and see what was going on.

First, we went to the football office and met Philip Fulmer, the head football coach. He was riding high. Peyton Manning was his quarterback, and the team was on the cusp of winning a national championship. We walked into his massive office and chatted for a while. However, it did not feel like a big deal. It was like talking to anyone else in any other office.

Next, we went to the women’s basketball office and met Pat Summitt. She was at the peak of her career. She was in the midst of three straight national championships, which would make a total of six. Eventually, she would win eight. Her office was not as palatial, but I felt that I was somewhere special.

Pat was friendly and open. She hugged my friend and made me feel like we had known each other forever. She even autographed a couple of basketballs for us. However, I was in awe and could not say much. Truth be told, I was intimidated. On some level, I did not want to disappoint her and receive her famous glare. I have met a lot of people, but that was the only time that I felt I was in the presence of greatness.Pat Summitt

Through the years, my dad and I have watched a lot of Lady Vols games and a lot of Lady Vols victories. Luckily, I have also been able to attend several. The 1998 NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina comes to mind.

Tennessee was undefeated and playing to go to the Final Four. However, North Carolina had a lead late in the game. It was going to be a disastrous loss. The game was at Vanderbilt’s gym in Nashville, and we had court side seats. It is as tense as I have ever been. Pat was working the officials and got a call that turned the game. My friend looked at me and said, “You’re supposed to get those calls at home.” An elderly lady who was obviously as Vanderbilt fan punched him and said, “This ain’t your home, sonny boy.” She was not at all happy that Tennessee was winning on her court.

Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols went on the win their third straight national championship.

When Pat Summitt announced that she suffered from dementia, Tennessee fans were devastated. How could something like this happen to such a powerful person? When she announced that she would coach another year, Tennessee fans hoped that she would go out on top. That did not happen, but it gave us a chance to do something else.

My wife and I were dating, and we wanted to take her daughter to a Lady Vols game. I got tickets, and we went to Knoxville to watch them play Vanderbilt. Pat was not doing much coaching, but the crowd went wild when she jumped out of her seat to glare at an official. Tennessee won, but there is something better. My stepdaughter can always say that she saw Pat Summitt coach and that she was in the presence of greatness.

As I wrote at the beginning, Pat’s records will eventually be broken, but, in my mind, she is the greatest women’s basketball coach and one of the greatest coaches of any sport of all time. She, along with many others, built a sport from nothing and showed women everywhere what they can accomplish. She also made a bunch of people in Tennessee and all over the country proud to be Lady Vols.

 

A Tale of Four Quarterbacks

26 Aug

This week marks the beginning of college football season, which means that I will be driving to Knoxville for another opening game for the University of Tennessee. This made me think about past seasons and other opening games. Then, I realized that it was 20 years ago that the Volunteers had one of their most interesting starts.

In 1994, Larry and I flew to Pasadena, California to watch the Big Orange play UCLA at the Rose Bowl. A few things about that trip stand out.

Our room overlooked Colorado Boulevard, the main route of the Rose Bowl Parade. It is too bad that we were there in September.

The temperature was super hot. It felt more like Tennessee temperatures than what you would find in southern California.

A man and his son brought their luggage to the game. Apparently, they did not have time to go to the hotel. They came to the stadium straight from the airport. Can you imagine someone trying to bring suitcases into a stadium during these times?

Larry upset one of the concession stand workers. We tried to get a cup of ice, and the guy said that it would be $10 or some other outrageous amount. That is when Larry said, “Damn, Jesse James carried a gun when he robbed people.” Apparently, the guy did not like the Jesse James reference.

There is something else I remember. Those were good times to be a fan of the University of Tennessee. Although we had lost Heath Shuler, who had finished second for the Heisman Trophy, we had a senior quarterback ready to take the helm. Jerry Colquitt had patiently waited his turn, and it was his time to shine.

Another upper classman, Todd Helton, was the backup. Everyone knew he would be drafted into the Major Leagues and had a bright future in baseball. He did not expect to play that often, but the team needed someone with experience because the other two quarterbacks were freshmen. They were also highly recruited.

One was Branndon Stewart, a son of Texas who came from the Heath Shuler mold. He could make things happen with his arm and his legs. The other was Peyton Manning, the son of a southern legend who played more traditionally. Everyone knew that there would be a quarterback battle in the future, but that was a year away.Quarterbacks

At least, everyone assumed it would be a year away. On the seventh play of the game, Colquitt injured his knee and was out for the season. Suddenly, Tennessee was down to a baseball player and two talented freshmen. Before the game was over, all of the quarterbacks would take snaps, and Tennessee would lose 25-23.

Helton became the reluctant starter and led the Volunteers to a big win over Georgia. However, he was injured in another game, and no one wanted to ruin his chances at baseball. He stayed on the team, but the freshman quarterback battle was at full force.

Stewart and Manning split playing time, and the fans were split, as well. Remembering Shuler, some fans wanted Stewart. Seeing a pro typical quarterback, other fans wanted Manning. Eventually, the coaches settle on Manning.

Stewart, seeing the writing on the wall, transferred to Texas A&M and led them to the 1998 Big 12 championship. In the title game, they beat Kansas State, which insured that Tennessee would go to the first BCS Title Game. The Vols won the National Championship, and, ironically, Stewart helped them do that.

Helton was drafted by the Colorado Rockies and recently retired after playing for them his entire career. Not long ago, they also retired his number.

Despite his injury, Colquitt by drafted into the NFL, but his playing career did not last long. He got into coaching and made it onto the staff of the Seattle Seahawks.

Manning is, well, Peyton Manning and is considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Like Shuler before him, he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, which is one of the greatest travesties in that award’s history. Then, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Now, he plays for the Denver Broncos.

Thinking about the opening game of 1994 made me wonder about how lives were changed by one injury on one play. What would have happened if that injury had not taken place? Would Colquitt have gone on to a more promising NFL career? Would Helton have come in during a later game and gotten hurt more seriously? Would another year allowed Stewart to beat out Manning for the starting job? Would Manning have transferred? Would Tennessee have won the National Championship in 1998?

I have no idea, but I know what we were thinking when that injury took place. Holy crap, what are we going to do now?

Pay These Prices and Please Pay No More

12 Apr

Bobby Denton passed away. Most of you have never heard of Bobby Denton, but he is someone I have been listening to since I was six years old. I could not pick him out of a crowd, but I would know his voice anywhere. Bobby Denton was the public address announcer at University of Tennessee football games.Bobby Denton

His voice would boom over the loud speakers as over 100,000 people listened. He let everyone know who made a tackle or scored on a long touchdown play. He let us know if the team had made a first down on a quarterback sneak.

Every university has a public address announcer who does these same things. However, each one of them has their own style and sayings. Bobby Denton was no exception. He had a certain way of saying things that could get the crowd fired up. After a great play, he would let the crowd settle down before saying something like, “That touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Joey Kent covered 85 yards!” The crowd would start yelling again.

People make fun of me because I like to get into the stadium early and watch the team warm up. While other people tailgate, I take in the atmosphere from the seats. Bobby Denton was one of the reasons. You knew that things were cranking up when he took the mic and said, “It’s football time in Tennessee!”

Then, he would go through his pregame ritual of telling everyone about the exits in case of an emergency and where the first aid stands were located. At the end, Bobby Denton said one of his catchphrases, “Concession prices are listed on Page 21 of your program. We urge you to pay these prices and please pay no more!” Half of the people in the stands said it with him.

As a kid, I sat next to my dad and listened to Bobby Denton tell me what was happening on the field. I have grown up listening to Bobby Denton. After his death, coaches and players from the University of Tennessee talked about how great of a man he was. I am just one of thousands of people who listened to him, but I know that football games will not be the same without Bobby Denton saying an opposing player was “tackled by a host of Volunteers!”

Listeria – Greatest Athletes of All Time

22 Nov

Once again, I went to the magazine stand at the grocery store. That means we have another case of Listeria, and this one is all about sports. Beckett called together a panel of experts and compiled a list of the 50 Greatest Athletes of All Time. With a collection like this, there are always arguments of who does and doesn’t belong. There are also arguments about the order.

However, I did not buy the magazine to quibble over the details. I was curious to know how many of the athletes I have seen in person. That smaller list is as follows.

Peyton Manning (41) – I was at the Rose Bowl when Peyton Manning entered his first college game against UCLA. The starter was injured on the first play, and the backups were thrown into the fray. Todd Helton was one of those backups, but Manning turned into the quarterback of the future. I attended most of his college games and have seen him in the NFL several times.

Jerry Rice (36) and Joe Montana (19) – Super Bowl XXIII saw the San Francisco 49er’s against the Cincinnati Bengals. Both of these guys played in that game, and Montana led San Francisco on the game winning drive as time ran out. My dad took me to the game, and, admittedly, I was cheering for the Bengals because Time McGee, a former player at Tennessee, was on their team.Super Bowl

Walter Payton (30) – I grew up a Cowboys fan, and my dad took me to Dallas to watch them play against the Chicago Bears. It was my first NFL game and my first time on an airplane. I don’t remember what Walter Payton did, but I was happy because the Cowboys won. I was also happy because I saw the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

Deion Sanders (29) – Deion Sanders was a two-sport star, but I only saw him play baseball for the Atlanta Braves. Memories of the game are fuzzy, and I have no idea how he played. I just know that everyone was amazed that he could be one of the best players in two professional leagues.

Magic Johnson (17) – My dad and I saw the Los Angeles Lakers play the Detroit Pistons, and it was awesome in many ways. We stayed at the same hotel as the Lakers and stood outside as they boarded the team bus. At the game, we spent one half court side and another half in the owner’s box. The Lakers won, but the Pistons got revenge by beating them in the championship series. Oh yeah, Bob Seger was in the box with us.

Bo Jackson (12) – He is known for football, baseball and Nike Commercials, but I saw him before all of that. In 1985, Jackson and the Number 1 ranked Auburn Tigers came to Neyland Stadium to play Tennessee. Jackson would win the Heisman that year, but he didn’t win it during this game. He only got a few yards and eventually left the game. Tennessee won in a blowout, and Tony Robinson, Tennessee’s quarterback, made the cover of Sports Illustrated.Tony Robinson

Wayne Gretzky (4) – Late in his career, Wayne Gretzky came to town to play the Nashville Predators. Everyone wanted a ticket to that game, and I was lucky enough to get one. He didn’t score any goals but proved he was “The Greatest” by getting five assists. I remember that he set up behind the net and dominated.

Should these people be on the list or placed where they are? I don’t know. I am just glad have the opportunity to see them perform. In the first pages of the magazine, they list 10 athletes who are on their way to stardom. Luckily, I have also seen a couple of them – Andrew Luck and Landon Donovan. Now, it’s time to see if they make the next list.

Tennessee, Alabama and Me

24 Oct

This weekend, the University of Tennessee plays the University of Alabama in a football game, and this is the one I look forward to the most. Younger fans may think of other games as bigger, but, for me, nothing is bigger than when these two teams get together. My dad started taking me to Tennessee games when I was 6 years old, and I have been to every Tennessee/Alabama game since then. There have been a lot of wins. There have been a lot of losses. There has also been a lot of memories.

When I was a kid, it was always me, my dad and my grandfather, who we called Daddy J. Most times Larry would be with us. You’ve read about him before. My dad would drive while Daddy J sat in the passenger seat tugging on a big cigar. Being in the backseat, I would lean up to hear the adult conversations that were going on.

Obviously, we went to Neyland Stadium all of the time, so I considered it special to attend a game at Legion Field in Birmingham. For the younger folks, that’s where Alabama used to play all of their home games. If the timing was right, then we would eat at All Steak in Cullman. Once in Birmingham, we would park in someone’s yard and walk to the stadium, where they had the greatest hot dogs I have ever eaten.

Legion Field was different from a lot of stadiums because it had a walkway around the field. Fans could go up to the fence and get close to the players and coaches. I can remember my dad telling me about Bear Bryant and pointing to the man standing under the goalpost.

He had a program rolled up in one hand and a cigarette hanging in the other one. Of course, he always had on the houndstooth hat. These days houndstooth has become a fashion statement in Alabama, but I always wonder how many of the people wearing it actually saw Bear Bryant coach a game.

All of that was cool, but it has always been about more. On Saturday, I will attend my 39th game between these teams. I have forgotten the details of a lot of them, but a few games stand out.

1982 – Tennessee came into the game in full rebuilding mode under Johnny Majors. Alabama came into the game ranked second in the nation and with eleven straight wins over Tennessee. Shocking everyone, Tennessee intercepted a pass in the end zone to preserve a 35-28 victory. No one was more shocked than me because it was the first time I saw Tennessee beat Alabama. Honestly, I never thought it would happen. More honestly, I shed a tear or two.

We were staying in Gatlinburg that weekend, and I wore orange the rest of the night. As we sat on a street-side bench, people would walk by and say “Go Vols!” Crimson couldn’t be seen anywhere as Tennessee fans celebrated.

It turned out to be the last time that Tennessee played against Bear Bryant. He retired at the end of the season and passed away a few weeks later. Most Tennessee fans know the photograph of Johnny Majors and Bear Bryant shaking hands after the game.Johnny Majors

1983 – The rematch in Birmingham was an offensive explosion. The teams traded blows until Johnny Jones scored on a 66 yard run to make the final score 41-34. It was electric, but things got better. Larry and I snuck into the Tennessee locker room and joined in the celebration. I got wrist bands from Charles Davis, one of Tennessee’s players. However, the best souvenir was a pair of socks from Clyde Duncan. Those socks scored on a long touchdown pass that day, and I wore them to every game for many seasons after.

1985 – This time we didn’t drive to Birmingham. Some people who my dad did business with flew us down on their private jet. On Friday, we toured their factory and had dinner at the fanciest restaurant I had ever been to. We had to wear a coat and tie, which I didn’t have. I had to wear what the restaurant gave me. There was a piano player, and my dad paid money for him to play “Rocky Top.” The other diners were not pleased.

The next day, Tennessee, ranked twentieth in the country, won 16-14 as Alabama, ranked fifteenth in the nation, barely missed a last second field goal. The game was full of drama as Tony Robinson, Tennessee’s starting quarterback, went out with a knee injury. The defense had to hold on, and Dale Jones did his part by making an impossible interception.

The flight home was quiet because we were the only Tennessee fans on the plane.

1995 – We had learned a couple of months before the game that Daddy J had an inoperable brain tumor. On the morning of the game, I visited him at the hospital and talked to him about football. He probably didn’t understand, but I like to think that he did. After this visit, I met Larry and the other guys to drive to Birmingham for a game between two highly ranked teams.

Tennessee was ranked sixth in the polls and was led by Peyton Manning, who was just a sophomore. Alabama came in eleventh in the nation. Like in 1983, Tennessee had not won in a while, and fans were anticipating a change in fortunes. We didn’t wait long as Tennessee scored on the first play and went on to win 41-14. Tennessee found a favorite son and started a seven game winning streak over Alabama.

After the game, fans tried to storm the field, but the Birmingham police would have none of it. They brought out the pepper spray and got a few journalists in the process. It was an eventful night, and it was a terrible day. My grandfather passed away that morning after I left the hospital.

At the visitation, I told Larry that I wished Daddy J could have seen that game. Larry replied that God let’s us see good things when we are in heaven.

I have been to many Tennessee/Alabama games, but those are the ones that I remember most. So, what’s the record between the two teams since I have been going.

Tennessee has won 15 games.

Alabama has won 22 games.

There was one game that didn’t count. You’ll have to ask an Alabama fan about that.

A Guide to Finding Interesting Places and Meeting Interesting People in Oregon

17 Sep

I went to Oregon to watch a football game, but I am not going to write about it. Sitting through it was enough, and I have no plans to relive it. Instead, I am going to write about the day before the game, back when Tennessee fans still had their innocence.

Friday started out simple enough. We ate at IHOP, and that is always a good way to the day to begin. After that, we drove to the stadium to see what was going on. Turns out, there was a lot going on. The Oregon cheerleaders and dance team were practicing. People were shopping for souvenirs in the bookstore. The Oregon football players were warming up.

As we walk around, a man toting a box came up to welcome us to town, and he introduced himself as the Director of Football Operations. That’s a pretty big job in an athletic department. However, that wasn’t all. In addition, he serves as the director of Peyton Manning’s quarterback camp. Mentioning Peyton’s name is always a good way to endear yourself to Tennessee fans.

Next, we drove over to the basketball arena. You see, Elliot went on the trip, and he is a huge Oregon fan. He really wanted to see the inside of the basketball arena. We went from door to door, and everything was locked. However, I learned a long time ago that there always an unlocked door. We found it, and he got a great picture of the interior of the arena.

After this episode of trespassing, we took a short drive to the coast and the town of Florence. We didn’t really see the ocean, but we had a nice drive over. Florence is a river town and has a history of a fishing-based economy.Oregon 001

Today. Florence has a tourist-based economy with shopping and restaurants. We ate at Mo’s, which sits on the river and has a nice overlook. It was pretty cool to watch seals playing in the water.

However, that wasn’t as cool as who we met while in Florence. Larry started talking to a man who introduced himself as Don Essig. That didn’t mean anything to a Tennessee fan, so he explained that he was the public address announcer at the Oregon football games. Apparently, he invented the phrase, “It never rains in Autzen Stadium!” The next day, we learned that the entire crowd says it with him. Anyway, Larry replied that he is the public address announcer for the Lebanon Blue Devils, our high school team. Don was impressed an informed Larry that there is a national organization of announcers.

The Voice of the Oregon Ducks and the Voice of the Lebanon Blue Devils

The Voice of the Oregon Ducks and the Voice of the Lebanon Blue Devils

We figured that we had topped out in Florence and headed back to town. We drove around for a while and made our way to the downtown area. Elliot and I walked around. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but when you hear a homeless man yelling up ahead things get exciting. It got even more exciting when he told a woman to do something anatomical with a goat. Oh, I also saw a sign for an upcoming concert by Five Finger Death Punch.

Yeah, that was probably enough for downtown, so we went back to the stadium. Remember when I said that there is always an unlocked door. Well, a door opened up for us. A worker was going into the stadium, and Elliot asked if he could go in. Larry and I quickly followed, and we all found ourselves standing in the middle of the field. I was in the end zone more than the Tennessee football team.

That’s about it for our day. Well, there was one other thing. We went to dinner at a local brewery, and our waitress was a professional bodybuilder. She looked like she could have kicked everybody’s asses. It’s a good thing she didn’t because we were going to have enough of that the next day.

Immortalized

23 Jul

It seems that I have been surrounded by immortals lately. Not real immortals, but the ones found in the pages of books. I just finished Blood Line by James Rollins, a book about a secret cabal performing experiments on humans to find a DNA secret to immortality. Currently, I am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is the true story of cancer cells taken from a woman and how they have continued to thrive since the 1950s. The cells have been used to further numerous scientific advancements.

Obviously, the books are different. One fiction. One non-fiction. However, the both center around something that humanity has often dreamed about – immortality. The scientists goal in the Rollins book may seem fantastical, but scientists in the Skloot book were looking at prolonging life as well.

Through this reading, I have been reminded about a conversation I had with some students. We were hiking through New Mexico when I asked what superpower they would pick if they could. I chose invisibility. One chose the ability to fly like Superman. However, another chose immortality. My first thought was how cool that would be, but then I started thinking about the problems.

1. When you get that power, you had better have a non-aging policy.

2. What happens when the Earth is destroyed? I suppose by that time people will be traveling to other planets.

3. How do you handle the death of loved ones over and over and over?

This brings to mind one of my favorite movies, Highlander – the story of Connor MacLeod, an immortal who must fight other immortals until only one is left. What’s the prize for the winner? He has immortality taken away. There is even a great song by Queen called “Who Wants to Live Forever“. And, what does that song say?

Who wants to live forever when love must die?

People have always been fascinated by immortality. After all, that is what religion is about. The Greeks and Romans worshipped immortals. Modern religions look for life after death. However, religion is not the only place immortality resides. Vampires have become a major theme in popular culture, and they hang around until somebody sticks a stake in them. Even zombies offer a glimpse at immortality, or an undead version of it.

So, why has humanity always had immortality on the brain? There’s probably more than one answer. First, people don’t want to stop being. No one wants to die even though it’s going to happen to everyone. It’s like a horror movie. YOU WILL NOT GET OUT ALIVE!!!

Second, we don’t want to miss anything. At least, this is what I think about. What will the world be like after we are gone? I call it “future history”. We have this urge to know what’s going to happen. What will the world be like in 2100? Will it be like The Jetson’s or like The Planet of the Apes? And, I use those examples for a reason. We like futuristic movies because it gives us a glimpse of what things might be like after we are gone. Some, like Star Trek, are about a hopeful future. Others, like Blade Runner, are about a desolate future. It doesn’t matter which because we just need to know what’s going to happen.

I feel bad for what people have missed. My grandfather was a huge fan of the University of Tennessee, and he passed away on a Saturday morning in 1995. That night his team, led by Peyton Manning, beat Alabama 41-14. I kept thinking how I wished he could have seen that. The next few seasons were great ones for Tennessee, and they eventually won the national championship in 1998. All I could think of was that he was missing it. I wish he could have seen it, and I wish I could see all of the games of the future.

But, those wishes are impossible because immortality is impossible. And, if it was possible would we really want it? I don’t know, but I do know that there is an old saying – Be careful what you wish for because it may come true.