As I sit in front of my TV watching Sportscenter's highlight-doctoral presentation between two of the NFL's best quarterbacks, I find myself quietly pondering again about a scenario that many in Rocky-Top's front office could only wish for.
I know it's a bit too soon to even be thinking of this, but I will go ahead and throw out there what many, many, Volunteers have as I coin, a "closet fantasy". He has got at least another ten to twelve years left in him by Marino and Favre standards.
I don't believe anyone in the Colts organization would trade him for a dozen first round picks, nor would they even dream about any scenario that involved free agency but as I said there is a fantasy.
What if he won another Super Bowl and said "Okay I've accomplished what I wanted to do, I've got plenty of Gatorade money, a family, I think I'm gonna try my hand at coaching." Don't tell me you haven't thought about it too.
Just imagine the staff he would put together. He would have more NFL and NCAA connections than a 55 gallon drum of legos. I mean really who are we kidding? He has one of the best offensive mentalities in the business.
Let's not forget that he had the best of four years to pick David Cutcliffes brain, who in my opinion is the best offensive coordinator in the business. Yea, I know he hasn't done that well as a head coach but what he created in Peyton and Eli, it was artistic genius.
With everything that has happened in the last year the faithful Vols are still supporting Lane Kiffin and we should. He really has put Tennessee back in the limelight, granted some of that limelight we would have been happy to eschew.
For better or worse the recruiting has come back to national contention and a lot of athletes are thinking and deciding that Tennessee has more to offer than a catchy celebration tune.
There is Bryce Brown who may very well become one of the best running backs to grace Neyland stadium, and there are other committed athletes rated among the nations best who could become All Americans for the Vol Nation if they have the ability and stamina.
Even this though doesn't come close to the feelings we all had when a tall lanky kid took the field and won our hearts. We all loved him so much that having never beat the Gators he was forgiven. We all knew he gave a hundred percent and more, and we thanked him for his efforts; the key to the city was already being forged.
In fact we loved him so much we retired his jersey, then we named children and streets after him not to mention every time he donated any dollar amount something else was named for his patronage.
More than anything else, before Peyton left I don't remember as much profane name calling and badgering from the rest of the SEC, including us. After much of the scandals in the last ten years everyone got really sensitive about their programs and took to pointing fingers at other schools instead of looking in the mirror.
I distinctly remember that the very first Tennessee game I went to was in another state and what sticks out the most was the warmth in which we were received. No one yelled at us as we approached the stadium, no one was staggering drunk as they flipped burgers from a rusted hibachi, and most of all no one screamed profanities at us when we won. I do remember "Ya'll r' tough this year!" "Good game." "We're gonna get ya next year son!"
It is a very different time and I don't want to become numb to the poor behavior but I can't take my kids to a game now, not in any stadium without somebody yelling compound profanities in every direction.
So before you suggest it, yes I will leave my kids at home and explain why I can't take them in person. Do I think that Peyton could suddenly cure this? No, the entire nation, except for Utah, would have to wash their mouth with soap.
No I don't believe he could but he would stand taller, prouder, and probably a little quieter. Could he restore the Vols to dominance? Who knows, really. What I do know is that when he was playing everybody loved to be a Vol regardless of a win or loss and I guess people were a little(I did say a little) nicer back then.
I will be the first to admit I have met some of the best people in all of the SEC states, and I refuse to call any of them out as being more profane than the other but when it comes to criticizing Tennessee, there has been quite a few schools that have been fighting for dominance in the orange jokes and mother cracks the last decade and it's not getting any better.
I must declare at this point that I do not have my walls lined with pictures of Peyton, nor are there statues of him adorning my shelves, but even in the heavy hitting world of NFL fans it seems there is an absence of profane criticism for Peyton. Yeah, I'm sure there is plenty if you look in the blogs but his persona on and off-field speaks for the nature of his character.
That is what is missed at Tennessee, true character. Apologies to anybody if any of this stings but I'm still looking for concrete evidence of this. Gosh, out of faith and loyalty I retract the previous sentence and allow benefit of the doubt for the next year, so don't prove us wrong.
I also know that being an exceptional athlete doesn't necessarily give you the ability to coach in any sport, but there are exceptions. Just about every coach worth their salt in any sport has played their prescribed sport at some level, even Poor old Phil. He helped the Vols amass 30-5 record from 69-71, won the SEC championship, the Sugar and Liberty Bowls. I won't even start to list all the stuff the crooked-nose guy has done.
I really wished we had let Phil leave on his own terms at the end of the season without all of the pomp and circumstance that involved his firing. I think he earned a graceful exit despite the bad seasons. He is to this day a very humble man who I regret to say I have only had the pleasure of meeting once, and I would have no hesitation of trusting to him my son's education or well-being.
Anyone can say what they want but those boys loved him. He really did try, his attempts just fell very short twice. He loved the University and he really was our native son. Now, Peyton was an exceptional sportsman down there in New Orleans before he got to Tennessee but it was at Tennessee that he learned respect for fans, which encompassed and entire state and abroad.
He then demonstrated exceptional character on and off the field. I don't know if we can ever get back to that feeling we had with him. Phil did give us a National Championship bone that we have been chewing on for ten years. Even if Lane takes us to the dance and we win, we'll still be looking for a prettier bone.
We were all happiest in the arms of a native son from Winchester and we loved the feeling that we had. Despite the success we will have in the future, I hope that feeling emerges in the ranks again that says Rocky Top and not Top Dollar, but I am very afraid the closest we're going to get to that again is a closet fantasy.