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I have been a Peyton Manning fan ever since I was in college. He was in college, too. We went to school less than two hours away from each other. Of course, he had no idea who I am. Never did. And that’s OK.
Because I sure knew who he was.
I remember when he announced he was sticking around the University of Tennessee for senior year. It was a big deal. And the news spread throughout East Tennessee like wildfire. I also remember hearing about the giant “Thank you, Peyton!” billboard that some Vol fans had installed.
My dad was a fan of Tennessee football. So, naturally, I became a fan of Tennessee football. Growing up, I cheered for them (except when they played Indiana ). It was easy to continue cheering for Tennessee while I was at Milligan.
We had no football team. Milligan hasn’t had a team in a long time. And the Tennessee casts a long, orange shadow throughout the region. So it was easy to cheer for Tennessee on Saturdays. It was easy to follow them throughout the week. So it was easy to become a fan of his. And the fact that he wound up playing professional football in Indiana? Oh, man. That made things even more sweet. And I even hoped he did well when he found himself playing in Denver.
As I watched his retirement announcement today, I couldn’t help but think of that billboard in Knoxville, Tennessee. I couldn’t help but think of all of the great football memories I have because of him. I also couldn’t help but think of all of the great things he’s done for the Indianapolis community. And the Denver community.
There might be other quarterbacks with better numbers. There might be some with more rings. And surely there will be someone somewhere who ultimately breaks all of his records (yes, even the Most Interceptions record). But it’s hard to argue that this guy who has led two different franchises to the Promised Land was anything than a Football Great.
It’s been a remarkable 18 years. And like Peyton Manning said, 18 is a nice number. So as we celebrate the accomplishments of a football legend, I hope you join me in standing up and saying,