Thursday, October 25, 2012
Wobblers Still Hurt if They Hit You in the Head
In January, this blog will have its first anniversary. Started as one of my 2012 New Year's resolutions, I had no idea how I'd come up with material to sustain it. Yes, I'm a writer but I would rather work on my latest book instead of posting here in order to keep things updated and fresh. It was suggested to me that I should start a blog to get my work "out there" and to sell books. So I did and the appropriately named "Reluctant Blogger" came to be. Everything I've written has been varied based on my own interests.
Which brings me to the topic of my latest post....Peyton Manning. I have been following the Denver Broncos quarterback since he played in college at the University of Tennessee. I'm not "All Things Manning" or a stalker and I don't hang out waiting to catch a glimpse of him (well, I live in Chicago so the latter wouldn't even be a possibility). But I appreciate the person Manning seems to be and the fact that he's a UT graduate probably magnifies the admiration.
A little history is in order to explain that even though I'm female, I get football. I understand it. Growing up in the heart of Southeastern Conference football, the college sport consumes the south on Saturdays in the fall. Everyone I knew bled UT orange, but like all other SEC backers, we supported "our" team first, then the rest of the SEC second.
Back in my day (yes, that sounds old), satellite and cable television did not exist. Three networks, ABC, NBC and CBS provided entertainment. The only SEC team that occasionally had a game broadcast was the University of Alabama. That was a sad fact for the rest of us. But it was the Bear Bryant era and Alabama always won. Looking back I wonder if anyone else in the country knew about those other Southeastern Conference teams then.
So the lack of television coverage meant all other SEC fans depended on radio broadcasts for game coverage. The University of Tennessee's John Ward was the voice of the UT Volunteers and the link for people who couldn't view the games to visualize the action on the field. His "It's Football Time in Tennessee!" announced to all of us that the one thing that drew people together in front of the radio was about to begin. And it didn't matter where you went on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, the radio would be tuned in to the football game. If you had to make a quick trip to the grocery store or gas station, the game would be blaring for all to hear. And if you happened to miss any action, someone would happily give you a play-by-play.
When I attended the University of Tennessee as a freshman, UT played Alabama at home that year. I remember having to camp out for student tickets to the game. Of course, it was near the end of Bear Bryant's run, so if you wanted to go to the game, there were things one had to endure. And camping out for student tickets was one of them. Game day was miserable. It poured rain and Tennessee lost. But I was able to see the legend in person coaching the opposition. Since being an SEC supporter, even though the Vols lost, that was meaningful.
Fast forward approximately a decade and a half. I was living in Michigan and Peyton Manning was quarterback at UT. There was no orange in the "Mitten State". Loyalty was to the blue and gold with the University of Michigan's only competition for support coming via Michigan State. Little attention was paid to teams outside of the Big Ten (similar to the way it was for us in the south).
But I remember sitting in a restaurant one Saturday night with ESPN (which was alive and kicking by that time) tuned to one of the television stations on the wall. Peyton Manning's photo appeared and the announcer was relaying the statistics for the game that day. Tennessee had won and Manning put up incredible numbers, indicative to what he'd accomplish in the NFL.
Sitting behind our table, another group was watching the television too. "That guy's a beast," someone exclaimed when hearing Manning's stats. And it startled me. Not because I didn't believe it, but because a little bit of orange had reached past the SEC and impressed someone.
Shortly after that, I was walking my daughters to school one morning. Then I saw an amazing thing. A little boy, waiting to cross the street, proudly wore a ball cap and sweatshirt in big orange colors with "Tennessee" emblazoned across the chest. Orange in the land of blue and gold. Yes, the media got the word out, but I couldn't help but think Peyton Manning had something to do with it.
During Manning's rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts, my husband and I were able to go to the last game of the season. They played the Carolina Panthers, a team Manning's current coach, John Fox, would eventually lead. It was the only time I've been able to see the former UT quarterback play in person and even though the Colts lost that game, it was still special for me.
This season found Manning's return to the NFL after missing a year due to injury. The season also started with him on a new team. Many wondered if he'd be the same great player we were used to seeing the last fourteen years, and it appears he hasn't missed a beat. When too much seemed to be made by the Denver media about his passes being "wobblers" instead of spirals, the quarterback's wit spoke loud and clear. He quipped at practice one day to the members of the press standing nearby to watch out, "...wobblers still hurt if they hit you in the head". It's a pretty funny quote taken out of context.
I've never met Peyton Manning but I appreciate the fact that he's a college graduate, and that he went to the University of Tennessee. Education is important to me. His intelligence and respectful demeanor underline what he accomplishes on the field in my opinion. Manning is the reason I became a fan of the Indianapolis Colts. But now that's changed for me. I've always liked the Denver Broncos but his addition to the team is why I now watch all of their games (even if we have to pay the outrageous price for DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket).
Wherever Manning plays, I'll probably follow. I'm not sure what I'll do with my Sundays when he retires...probably support the nearest local team, I guess. But I'll always appreciate the memory I have of the little boy in Michigan wearing Tennessee orange during Manning's UT run. Whether Manning had anything to do with it or not, I like to think he did.