I am a realist, first and foremost...but I cannot resist engaging in a little wishful thinking.
Several things are happening now in the football world, and they're happening in such a way that tantalizes my mind about the future of Tennessee football. I'll explain.
First we have, as Gate 21 refers to him, "The Great Punkin"—our own Phillip Fulmer.
I've always been a Fulmer supporter. Even when things got a little dicey for both him and the program, I've always believed he'd see us through...and he has. But Coach Fulmer is now in his 16th full season as head coach, and in all honesty, the clock is ticking.
This is not an attack on him—it is merely a fact due to Fulmer's age. There is simply no way to mute the increasingly percussive drumbeat of time. Coach is nearing 60 now, and sooner rather than later, he's going to retire.
My guess: somewhere in the three to six-year range or when Tennessee wins its next championship—whichever comes first.
Second, we have the retirement of Al Wilson.
Al Wilson was the heart of the 1998 National Championship team. He gave everything of himself to that team and was as dominant a defense player as Tennessee has ever had. Now, after a distinguished NFL career, he is calling it quits after being sidelined for two years by injury.
Al Wilson has brought emotion, intensity, and heart to every team he has ever played on...and now he is on the open market. Tennessee would be foolish to not bring him back into the program, in any capacity. He would be a great role model and motivator to the players and would deliver a huge injection of vitality back into Tennessee football.
Anyone remember seeing the defense warm up before games in '98? Al got those boys fired up like none other. Wouldn't it be nice to have that enthusiasm once again?
Third, we have Peyton Manning.
I still remember Peyton's rookie season with the Colts like it was yesterday. His head was too big for his helmet, and he looked terrible. This was simply because the Colts sucked...bad.
That was 10 years ago.
Peyton is now a seasoned, Super Bowl-winning quarterback who will undoubtedly go down as one of the best to ever play the game.
However, there are signs that the NFL is taking a toll on his body. That old bursa sac problem he had at Tennessee has resurfaced, and game after game, he takes hard hits—the kind of hits reserved by defenses for their very best opponents.
The cold hard fact is, you can't play in the NFL for very long. This is true even for an iron man like Peyton Manning. I see him winning another Super Bowl and shattering more records, but like Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee, I think Peyton's NFL days are numbered.
If his career were likened to a round of golf, he would probably be teeing off at 13 having shot 12 under par.
Not now, not next year, probably not even the year after that—but in a relatively short period of time, Peyton will retire.
So I present this little morsel for you to munch on: What if around the same time Coach Fulmer decides to step down, UT hires Peyton Manning as head coach?
Peyton Manning is a commander and master of the game of football. His knowledge, instinct, and football savvy are on display every Sunday.
He is methodical and precise to the extreme. He practically lives in the film room and constantly works on his own fundamentals technique. No detail is left unchecked. His work ethic and constant drive to improve are what make him, and everyone around him, better.
Plus, the guy is a natural winner. He expects to win every single game he competes in, whether it be the preseason or the Super Bowl. He absolutely cannot stand to lose.
You are probably thinking, "Well, everyone hates losing."
No one hates losing like Peyton Manning. It's disgraceful to him. It hurts him to his core to lose.
That is exactly the kind of attitude I want to see back at Tennessee: the feeling that fans, coaches, and players alike honestly expect to win every single time the Vols step foot on the gridiron.
I know that Peyton would bring that to Tennessee. I don't have a doubt in my mind he could be as successful on the sidelines as he is and has been on the field.
Imagine a Tennessee coaching staff with Al Wilson and Peyton Manning. The potential for greatness there is simply beyond my powers of description.
This and more at The Pigskin Pathos.