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Peyton Manning at Michigan? How One Recruiting Trip Nearly Changed Football History

Athletes wear iconic colors that help build their legacies, but seeing them wear another jersey just doesn't make sense. Remember when Michael Jordan played for the Washington Wizards? How about that lost season when Brett Favre played for the New York Jets? It's like nails on a chalkboard thinking of these icons with any other team.

At the University of Tennessee, quarterback Peyton Manning became one of the greatest signal callers in SEC history. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist three times while wearing the orange and white, but according to Hall-of-Fame father Archie Manning, Peyton almost passed on the Volunteers to head north and carve out his own legacy in the Big Ten Conference.

Peyton Manning Almost Went to Michigan

Peyton Manning looks on during a Ring of Honor induction ceremony at halftime of the game between the Washington Football Team and Denver Broncos at Empower Field At Mile High on October 31, 2021.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

In a 2018 interview at "An Evening with Manning and Miles," a charity event benefiting the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Archie Manning, a College Football Hall of Famer playing for the Ole Miss Rebels, talked about his son's recruiting process in high school and dropped a bomb on the CFB world.

"A lot of people don't know this, but Peyton almost went to Michigan. He wanted to get away from the Southeastern Conference and carve his own."

— Archie Manning

Wait, Michigan!? Could you imagine Peyton Manning wearing those iconic helmets in the maize and blue?

Oh, by the way, Manning would have been teammates with his longtime NFL rival and Michigan graduate, Tom Brady.

Les Miles Played a Key Role in Recruitment

During his recruiting, the future NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback formed a close relationship with former LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles, who was the offensive line coach for the Wolverines and a top recruiter working under head coach Gary Moeller at the time. The Manning family met Miles during Peyton's recruiting trip and apparently built a strong bond with Miles after that trip north, before he ultimately chose to stay in the South and sing "Rocky Top" down in Knoxville.

After taking over as the starting quarterback in Week 5 of his freshman season, the New Orleans, Louisiana, native went on to lead the Volunteers to a 39-6 record with three Top 10 finishes. He was named SEC Player of the Year during his senior season while breaking the school's single season records for yards and touchdowns, and Manning still holds Tennessee records for career passing yards (11,201) and passing touchdowns (89).

Peyton Manning College Career

Peyton Manning looks downfield for the Tennessee Vols

Photo by Scott Halleran/Allsport/Getty Images

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Manning went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and have one of the best NFL careers ever. As a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, a five-time league MVP, and a two-time Super Bowl champion, Manning held all-time NFL records for passing yards and touchdown passes when he finally hung it up after an 18-year career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

If Peyton Manning, a consensus All-American and winner of the Maxwell Award and Davey O'Brien Award in 1997, took his talents to the University of Michigan, it could have changed the course of history forever. Manning would have played alongside the same football player who beat him out for the 1997 Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson, and been a member of the team that finished 12-0 with a share of the national championship.

What if Peyton's commitment to Michigan meant Tom Brady never goes to Ann Arbor, and eventually never gets an NFL shot in the first place? What if Peyton wins the Heisman and Charles Woodson doesn't end up a top-five pick with the Oakland Raiders? Would the Tennessee Volunteers even have won the 1998 national title without Manning's Hall-of-Fame career boosting the program?

This is one of those big, fat "what-if" moments in sports, but, man, it would have been insane to see The Sheriff playing up north for head coach Lloyd Carr in Ann Arbor.

This article was originally published October 5, 2018.

MORE: Peyton Manning's Net Worth: Being "The Sheriff" Paid Really, Really Well