Athletes wear iconic colors that help build their legacies, and 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 to think of them with any other team.
At the University of Tennessee, quarterback Peyton Manning became one of the greatest signal callers in SEC history. He was named a Heisman Trophy finalist three times while wearing the orange and white, but according to his Hall of Fame father, Archie Manning, Peyton almost passed on the Volunteers to head north and carve out his own legacy outside of the SEC.
In an interview Wednesday night at an “Evening with Manning and Miles,” a charity event benefiting the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Archie Manning, a College Football Hall of Fame member playing for the Ole Miss Rebels, talked about his son’s recruiting process in high school.
“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 possibly 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.
During his recruiting, the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback apparently 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 the coach during Peyton’s recruiting trip, and apparently formed a strong bond with Miles after the trip north, before he ultimately chose to stay in the south and sing ‘Rocky Top’ wearing the orange and white.
After taking over as the starter 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 during his career.
Manning went on to have one of the best NFL careers ever as a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, a five-time league MVP, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and he held all-time records in passing yards and passing touchdowns 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 Maxwell Award winner 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 player who beat him out for the 1997 Heisman, 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 1997 Heisman Trophy 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 Championship 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.