My pastor at Lakeside Church of God in Norman plans to wear a football jersey next Sunday. Pastor Brian Wade asked the flock to bring their friends on Super Bowl Sunday, wear the colors of their favorite team, he'll preach about Jesus and we'll have a chili cook-off after the service.
New-age evangelism. I'm for whatever gets the fish to bite.
Pastor Wade will be adorned in a Broncos 18 jersey. You'd have already known that had I mentioned that my pastor is from Knoxville, Tenn.
It's quite possible that no athlete has been adored by one fan base the way Vol Nation feels about Peyton Manning.
“There's a deep-seeded devotion to Peyton Manning in the state of Tennessee,” Pastor Wade said.
Pro athletes can and do break your heart. Brett Favre was a Jet and then, egads, a Viking. Albert Pujols left St. Louis.
LeBron James left Cleveland, and Kevin Durant one day could leave Oklahoma City.
But college stars die young. They are forever with the school for which they starred. And those that stay four years, and play at a high level, and return the adoration with respect and gratitude, live high on the mountain of memories. That's what Manning means in Tennessee. Rocky Top indeed.
From the thousands of Tennessee schoolkids, both boy and girl, now named Peyton, to the orange 18 jerseys you still see whenever Volunteers congregate, to the pride in voices of Tennessee fans still, 16 years after Manning's final college game, you detect there's something special about this relationship.
We really don't have anything like it in Oklahoma.
Let's see. If you combined Sam Bradford's productivity with Landry Jones' longevity (Manning made 45 career starts) and tossed in J.C. Watts' personality, you still wouldn't reach the peak of Peyton Manning, since you've also got the pro career. Manning is one of the NFL's five greatest quarterbacks ever, and that Tennessee pride gets pumped every autumn Sunday, long after Manning last wore the Volunteer orange.
Danny Orr is a Vol fan from Seymour, Tenn. All three of his sons have Manning jerseys, even though none were yet born when Manning last wore the pastel orange.
“They know how everybody loves him, so they pull for him, too,” Orr said. “He did a lot for the university while he was here. Just a great person all the way around. Just a super individual.”
Over 15 NFL seasons, Manning has charmed America, too. The aw-shucks personality. The great commercials, some with his brother Eli. The comeback from neck surgery. The Everyman quality when compared to golden boy Tom Brady, even though Manning was born football royalty and was always considered a savior, at Tennessee, the Colts and Broncos.
Manning has even found a role as an underdog, not by his own volition but through circumstance. He lost the 1997 Heisman Trophy to Michigan's Charles Woodson in one of the biggest upsets in forearm history. Tennessee fans still can offer up, on demand, impassioned speeches about the outrage of that vote. Then Manning spent years chasing Brady, who three Super Bowls early in his career.
Most NFL stars, we don't feel like we know. But we feel like we know Peyton Manning, and know him well.
Tennessee fans do know him well. And adore him.
The Volunteers have had their share of gridiron heroes. But none like Manning. Few schools have.
“He turned out to be something special, didn't he?” Orr asked.
Said Brian Wade: “Tennessee fans love him. He's always represented us well.”
So Sunday, my pastor will represent Peyton, standing in the pulpit preaching the Word of God, mixing Rock of Ages with the man who stands highest on Rocky Top.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.