Remember the name.
Back on Track
A funny thing happened to Peyton Manning on the way to the 1997 Heisman Trophy: He had his worst game in four years. Though Tennessee defeated South Carolina 22-7 on Nov. 1, Manning completed just eight of 25 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The performance had even Peyton's father fretting. "I never told him this," Archie said last Saturday as the Volunteers prepared to play Southern Mississippi, "but I knew coming back this year was going to set him up where he couldn't do anything but fail."
But against the Golden Eagles, who had the nation's seventh-ranked pass defense, Peyton completed 35 of 53 passes for 399 yards—all season highs—and four touchdowns (he also rushed for a TD) as the Volunteers pulled away to a 44-20 victory. Manning was neither intercepted nor sacked. Early in the game, when Southern Mississippi's aggressive, stunting defense deployed no down linemen, Tennessee one-upped the Golden Eagles by going to a no-huddle attack. "Everything we can do in the formation we're in is available to Peyton in the no-huddle," Vols offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe says. "He knows everything I know. You can turn him loose."
Manning's career seems straight out of a Chip Hilton novel, so why should his senior season with the Volunteers—which he wanted to play so much that he put off the NFL for a year—depart from the story line? Fifth-ranked Tennessee is 7-1, and only three sub-.500 opponents stand between the Vols and the SEC championship game. An invitation to the Orange Bowl, and with it a shot at the national title, isn't out of the question. If that doesn't come, Manning most likely will finish his college football career playing in the Sugar Bowl, in front of a hometown crowd in New Orleans.
This season's football possibilities, which out of superstition Manning refers to obliquely as "what's out there," aren't the reason he decided in March to return to school. As he put it over lunch last Friday, "I didn't have enough memories." He's collecting some this fall. Manning, who already has his bachelor's degree in speech communications, is doing graduate work in sports management. As part of an independent study course under Andy Kozar, an exercise professor who's researching the career of Tennessee's College Hall of Fame coach, Gen. Robert Neyland, Manning will interview former Vols All-Americas George (Bad News) Cafego and Doug Atkins.
Even before he began working under Kozar, Manning had studied Tennessee football history so closely that, when shown a picture of a Tennessee All-America from the 1930s, he said, "That's Beattie Feathers."
"I really appreciate a student like him," says Kozar, who was an All-SEC running back in 1952, Neyland's last season. "I told him, 'You really ought to consider getting a Ph.D. and being a professor.' Of course, who the hell am I to say that?"
The rest of Manning's senior year has been dedicated to creating, rather than collecting, memories. He goes out to dinner with his line on Tuesdays for 10-cent chicken wings. After he led Tennessee to a 38-21 win over Alabama on Oct. 18, he came out of the locker room to conduct the Vols' Pride of the Southland Band in a rendition of Rocky Top. "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. During an open week in October, Manning and a few teammates drove about 45 miles to Rockwood, Tenn. (pop. 5,500), because former mayor Mike Miller invited them for a speaking engagement and a barbecue. Manning smiled as he recalled the trip: "You know that next year I'm not going to be in Rockwood, Tenn., talking football with a bunch of fans."
In December, Manning will fly to New York City to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman and to accept an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame as one of 11 Division I-A scholar-athletes. There's also the prospect of the Heisman, among other awards, and a chance at the national championship. A lot of memories remain to be made.