The God, The G.O.A.T. and Tennessee Football
Updated: May 31
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published while Tom Brady was a member of the New England Patriots.)
In Knoxville there is God, UT football and Peyton Manning. The latter is the embodiment of the first two. Manning is so beloved here that he could drive through a school zone going 120 mph and the cops would blame the kids. He’s that kind of deity, and that’s one of two undeniable truths about this area. The other being that Tennesseans absolutely, unequivocally, unabashedly and vehemently hate, rather HATE, the G.O.A.T. (translation: Greatest Of All Time) Tom Brady.
For the most part I get the love for Manning but, for the life of me, I don’t understand the utter hatred of Brady given the inherent characteristics that the people of Tennessee (Vols for short) exhibit to an outsider like me. Why don’t Vols naturally gravitate to a player and person like Tom Brady?
On the surface the argument is pretty straight forward. Manning is a southern boy from Louisiana, a blue chip prospect if there ever was one, who chose to play his college ball in Knoxville. Brady, on the other hand, is a California kid (read: Western progressive) who played his college football at Michigan (considered the Harvard of the Midwest) and, to top it all off, played professionally in the old school Yankee mecca of Boston.
Add to that the fact Brady has numerous championships, a supermodel wife and a pungent air of aristocracy. What’s not to hate?
Then there’s the whole 2015 Deflategate debacle in which the Patriots (aka The Evil Empire) directly and “illegally” influenced the AFC Championship Game by employing deliberately deflated footballs for their side while the Colts (Manning’s original NFL team by the way) unknowingly used regularly-inflated footballs. Evidently that minute difference in psi somehow translates into winning by 38 points.
Of course this wasn’t the first time the Patriots have been involved in rule bending so, lI think we can all agree that Tom Brady can be accurately cast as Darth Vader in this particular tale.
The takeaway from all of this is that, from a Tennesseean’s perspective at least, Tom Brady is cheater and people in Tennessee hate cheaters (in football at least).
Our Luke Skywalker aka Peyton Manning, on the other hand, infused a winning mentality in UT (Tennessee) football at an almost unimaginable level (39–6 as a starter) although, to be clear, he never did win a Heisman Trophy or a National Championship. How much you want to “blame” him for the latter depends on how much you’re willing to factor in a quarterback’s importance to a team’s success. If you’re willing to credit him with the wins then shouldn’t he also be held accountable for the losses as well?
After his years at Tennessee Manning went on to a stellar, record-setting career in the NFL, bringing Super bowl championships to both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. That somewhat tenuous winning connection to Manning’s professional success still emanates from Tennesseans to this day. We had a part in that, they will say.
Yet given all of this as the backstory, the demonization of Tom Brady in addition to the utter canonization of Peyton Manning seems far too simplistic and frankly out of way out of character for the good people of the Volunteer state. Vols are good solid, hardworking blue collar folk who (they contend) have earned most everything they have. Theirs is a life of adversity and challenges, the proverbial nothing comes easy unless you work for it. Of the two men in question, decide from this whose life more closely resembles that work ethic and life ethos?
Peyton Manning comes from NFL royalty lineage. His father Archie played 11 seasons for the New Orleans Saints while Peyton’s brother Eli, played 16 years with the New York Giants where he won two Super Bowls. The Mannings were pretty much born with footballs in their hands.
Contrast that with Tom Brady who has no such football lineage and whose measurable physical attributes were nowhere near Manning’s. Tom Brady 1999 NFL Draft Combine photoTom Brady, contrary to the common perception was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was never really pegged as the Golden Boy.
Brady, at one point in college with the Michigan Wolverines, was buried 7th on the depth chart and, even after an amazing Rose Bowl comeback triumph, would not be drafted until pick number 199 in the 2000 NFL Draft — behind six other quarterbacks.
Even after being drafted, his role with the Patriots was projected to be nothing more than a practice squad quarterback, basically to be one of the players who would get the real players ready to play the real games.
Manning by contrast, in his draft year, was taken first overall.
And then there’s the question of loyalty.
Tom Brady grew up in San Mateo, California, and was a devout follower of his local home team, the San Francisco 49ers. He dreamed of becoming the next Joe Montana and even though the 49ers were in dire need of a quarterback, and that this local kid was available, San Francisco passed on Tom Brady. Instead he was left to prove to the Patriots that they hadn’t wasted a sixth round pick on him. While Manning’s transition to the NFL didn’t call into question Peyton’s loyalty, his choice of a college certainly did. His father Archie’s glory had come at Ole Miss and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion by the football world at large that the son would follow in his father’s footsteps.
But that was not to be.
Peyton instead chose the University of Tennessee and while residents of the Volunteer state can certainly feel fortunate to have gotten him there, they should attempt to look at this from a more objective perspective. Take off the Big Orange colored glasses and just look at the dynamics for a moment.
Imagine that, instead of football, this scenario is Dad’s hardware store. The one son chooses not not to follow the family plan and decides to go elsewhere (sidenote: the younger brother Eli Manning did play his college ball at Archie’s alma mater) while Brady badly wants to stay home but is forced to ply his trade halfway across the country. He did not become a Michigan Wolverine or a New England because of his name. He actually succeeded in spite of it.
Not so for Manning who of course, was incredibly talented but undeniably was also a Manning.
You’re left with the same premise you started with. One a self made individual who had to fight to gain and also maintain everything he ever got and the other individual whose lineage and utter ability allowed him to pretty much choose his destination at every level.
Which brings us back to Tennessee. The state and also the people who live there. A place where loyalty matters. A place where family matters. A place where hard work and the ability to overcome adversity is bred into them. A place where people really appreciate hard work and the ability to overcome adversity.
Now look at the stories of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Take the personalities out of the equation. Minimize your biases and wipe both of their slates clean. Whose life and career path more resembles the kind of person you admire? Which player more represents who you really are?
(Endnote: I highly recommend watching this film to get a full appreciation of who Tom Brady truly is and what got him there)