Photo by Jack Dempsey (The Sporting News)
Every Fall, University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones invites Midday 180 and 3HL to do our shows live from Fall practice as the Vols prepare for the upcoming season. Our radio station, 104.5 The Zone, is the Vol Network station in Nashville. Each year, as the football season is just weeks from opening day, we broadcast live from the Peyton Manning room in the University of Tennessee football complex. The room is rectangular in shape. As you walk in, you see Peyton’s UT #16 etched into the hardwood floor. There are pictures, trophies, and play sheets with notes on display. When you look to the left, there is a bar which can quinch your thirst with many choices of beverage. Floor to ceiling windows on the left side of the room offer an inviting view of the football practice field. For a more intimate practice landscape sight line, you can go outside on the Manning lanai. It is a perfect broadcast spot and Manning’s hospitality is appreciated. He doesn’t know we’re there, but if he did, the room would be just as welcoming.
Peyton Manning is celebrated by University of Tennessee fans and their love for him is not lost on the future Hall of Fame quarterback. During his retirement speech, Peyton discussed how much his time at Tennessee meant to him, “I cherished my time in Knoxville, especially my senior year. And, I want Vol fans everywhere to know the unique role that you’ve played in my life.”
My time at the University of Tennessee overlapped with Peyton Manning’s. I have one memory that sticks out to me from our time on the Hill together. A snowstorm hit Knoxville one winter day. I was hanging out with friends at College Park on Chapman Highway. As we killed time playing video games enjoying our time out of class, a snowball fight broke out. We all went outside massaging snow into snowballs and launching them in the direction of any and everyone we saw. As I set to launch a shot at a buddy I noticed a quickly moving flamethrower wearing a Tennessee football helmet. There was a large guy working the field with the snowball assassin, holding a tray full of snowballs. It was a quick release and reload situation and none of us had a chance. That snowball rocket launcher was Peyton Manning. He was prepared, with the helmet and he had teammate assistance. It was an example of preparation and execution as Peyton Manning mowed through students on that snowball battlefield. When I later saw this Saturday Night Live sketch, I remembered that day vividly. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/united-way/n12129
In 1997, I went to work for a radio sports talk show called The Sports Scene on 1510 WLAC. The legendary Bob Bell was the host along with football recruiting guru, Bill King. These two were the ultimate professionals and I hoped to learn from them how to be a radio sports talk host. They were great to me and immensely talented. I thought, “I could never be as good as these guys” and I was right. I will never be as good as those guys. But, I will try everyday to be the best radio professional that I can be. Back to Peyton. Several weeks after Peyton was selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft the hotline rang in the studio while Bob and Bill talked about college football on air. I answered the phone and said, “Sports Scene.” I heard a distinctive voice on the other end say in a cajun southern drawl, “Hey, this is Peyton Manning. I’m driving through Nashville on the way to Indianapolis and I’d like to talk with the guys.” My initial thought was, to say, “yeah right” and hang up. Thankfully I did not choose to do that. Had I hung up on Peyton Manning, I would’ve been fired and would’ve gone to work at Blockbuster Video full time. Instead, I said, “Excuse me? Who is this?” He reiterated, “This is Peyton Manning. I’m driving through Nashville. I’m headed to Indianapolis. My Dad is in the car asleep so I thought I’d call in to talk football with the guys.” I wisely put him on. That may be the best guest I ever “booked.”
His retirement speech will go down in history as one of the greatest athlete speeches ever.. I got emotional listening to him get emotional. I love watching people do what they love to do. I couldn’t wait to get home and share that speech with my kids. I remember hearing Peyton say a long time ago that he doesn’t really get nervous because he is always prepared. If you’re prepared, you won’t be nervous. He said that’s what you can control. I think about that constantly and repeat it to my kids. In his walk-off speech, Peyton said, “Football has taught me not to be led by obstructions and setbacks but instead to be led by dreams.” Manning continued with something I certainly take to heart, “There were other players who were more talented but there was no one who could out prepare me. And, because of that, I have no regrets.” I love that message and hopefully my kids understand what he meant. http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/299460/Peyton-Manning-Emotional-Retirement-Speech/
Thank you, Peyton.