Peyton never beat Florida. He may have finally done it…kind of.
This is not a number typically associated with Peyton Manning–with two great exceptions, the Heisman Trophy and the Florida Gators. In the four golden years Manning set the Tennessee Volunteer record books aflame, he never once beat the hated Gators and never won a Heisman.
I was five when I learned the name Peyton Manning. As a life-long and die-hard Tennessee Volunteers fan, I spent most of my young life reveling in Tennessee’s golden era that Manning headlined and hating Florida. Even though Alabama, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt always were technically the bigger rivals of the Vols, Florida was a particular source of guile because, well–they were the only team as good as (or, let’s go ahead and admit it for once, better than) the Big Orange in the SEC during the 90’s. Since Peyton never beat the boys from Gainesville, a lot of people believe this is the reason he also never won a Heisman Trophy (something the proud Tennessee program has never hoisted). Funny how those things go hand-in-hand.
Claims of Peyton’s inability to win the big game (aka beat Florida) followed him to the NFL, where he spent most of his career trying to shed this reputation until finally winning Super Bowl XLI.
After the nineties, the rivalry simmered a little bit on the national stage but the bitterness (or, let’s go ahead and admit it, jealousy) from a Tennessee fan’s perspective grew, especially once the UT program declined. Then, a little player known as Timothy Tebow came along and beat Tennessee all four years of wearing the UF orange and blue. He also won two National Championships–also something Peyton did not achieve.
But, with every yard, touchdown, accolade, and victory Tebow collected at Florida every Tennessee fan knew–we just KNEW, Tebow would fail in the NFL. Two seasons, a meme, a pro-bowl, and a magical play-off victory later, the curmudgeon-like snears accompanied with hypo-breath mumbling the resentment returned.
Comparisons are very eery despite the players’ differences. Both were multiple-year consensus All-Americans. Both were first-round draft picks. Both have made the pro-bowl. Both have statues, streets, and countless babies with their namesakes. Most of all, both are considered the greatest players in either colleges’ storied histories.
Now, proud supporters of the Vols are crossing their fingers all over the country, much like they did every third Saturday in September from ’94-’97 just waiting and hoping for a victory. If Manning does, in fact, take Tebow’s job in Denver, it would symbolize a victory over a notorious stigma and the proverbial removal of a back-residing monkey, to fans of a program that has endured a slew of black-eyes since the Manning reign.
Of course, it could just reinforce the fact that we spend way too much time staring at next season’s football schedules.