Tag Archives: Todd Helton

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?

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.