Mike, I don't know if you had a chance to watch the Peyton Manning press conference but if you did, what was reaction to it? How do you think Peyton handled it?
Well, I mean 18 years. Think about it. For the average high schooler, he's played more professional ball than most high schoolers have lived. I think that says a lot, his professionalism. Obviously any time you're in a situation where you're getting ready to transition from one aspect of your life into the next, you're not sure exactly what you will be doing or won't be doing. Obviously for him, he had a great career and to have the opportunity to go out with a championship makes it all that sweeter.
Obviously every football player or any professional athlete has the tough choice of determining whether they should retire or not. How was that transition like? What is it like now maybe these next couple weeks for Peyton Manning knowing that now you don't have to worry about free agency, getting ready for football? What is that few weeks like for a professional athlete or football player?
I think it's one of those things that you're so used to having some form of routine that you get into in the offseason and I think he's been one of the greatest preparers that we've seen in our lifetime. In reference to preparing for a season or a particular game. I think for him, he probably gets a chance to just unwind for a change. Just relax and enjoy his family and his loved ones and not think about the upcoming season or preparing your body or rehabbing. I'm sure he's still going to have some rehab and some issues on the health side that becomes a lifelong challenge and commitment. For him, he's certainly not in any need for any money so anything that his heart desires is there in front of him. I think there's no better way to go out than to have the opportunity to go out as a champion.
Did you see this coming? Did you have a feeling this season was going to be Peyton Manning's last rodeo?
Well, the type of injury that he had, any time you're talking about anything spinal, neck, back, knees, there's a good chance you may not be able to make it back. Certainly with all the different issues he had throughout the season, he missed some games and the fact that the Broncos have a pretty good replacement for him already waiting in the helm, I think he probably made the decision not to come back. All those things I think certainly played a factor. I think at this point Mother Nature kind of tells your body when it's time. I think he made a decision based upon all those factors.
Mike, before I get your interactions with him on a personal level, I want to hear your story about I believe your Memphis Tigers when you played there in college took down Peyton Manning and the Vols. Can you tell us a little bit about that game and what was that moment like for you and your team?
First of all, that's inner-city, inner-state rivalries. You know, you see them on the other corner of the state and Memphis on the other side. Fierce rivals. Back in 1995, actually it was 1996 season, they came in at I think No. 6 ranking at that time. The game was being held at the Liberty Bowl. A home game for us and I promise you it must have been 80 percent University of Tennessee fans in our Liberty Bowl. Imagine being at a home game, one of the biggest games of our career and we look around and it's filled with orange jerseys. I just never forgot that. All odds were against us. We didn't stand a chance. They had Peyton Manning and about seven first round guys that year, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, they had running back Jay Graham. It was loaded with NFL talent and somehow someway we were able to put together a complete game. Offensively, I want to say offense scored 13, 14 points on that particular evening. Defense we played a well of a game. I think we picked off Peyton Manning maybe twice on that particular day. One of my good friends Kevin Cobb, he won an ESPY award, returned a kickoff back for a touchdown in that game so we had one special teams touchdown. Late in the game, we had an opportunity to win it, our quarterback drove us down for a go-ahead touchdown. I'll never forget, fans rushed the field, we tore down the goal posts and I certainly feel that's one of the top five greatest wins in my university history. It was just another notch on my belt, a quality win against Peyton Manning.
Very cool, very cool. I'm sure those 80 percent Vols fans made the stadium very quiet there at the end when the Memphis Tigers were able to overcome and beat them. That's pretty cool. I'm sure that was motivation for you guys when that game started trying to shut that crowd up a little bit.
Well, no doubt. What's funny about is all those folks are Memphis fans typically but I guess they showed their true colors on this particular day. A lot of those folks when it was all said and done, it's not like they were truly sad. They just happened to wear their orange on this particular day because a large part of the Memphis population are UT fans. You can certainly understand why in parts of Tennessee because the Vols had a tremendous football program for a while. You can understand why.
After that game, you both head on to the NFL. At that moment after the game, after it all sank in, did you think when you were facing Peyton Manning, man this guy is going to be one heck of a NFL quarterback? What were your thoughts on Peyton during college and how he might transform to a NFL quarterback?
When you're in college, especially after a big win like that you're not even thinking anything about professionally. Obviously he went on to be the number one draft pick and a phenomenal rookie campaign. Ever since that time, he's continued to develop his game, develop his skills, develop his leadership. He's always been one of the toughest quarterbacks that I've had to face in my career. It's one of those things that without any doubt you knew he was going to be a good quarterback. It was hard to say he was going to be a great quarterback but none the less you knew he was going to be a real good quarterback. I think time has shown that he's one of the best that the league has ever seen.
Did you have to prepare a little differently for him in the NFL as far as when you were game planning about how to stop Peyton Manning in the offense? Was it specifically how Peyton Manning played or was it basically the kind of offense that he ran that made so successful? How much more prep went into a week when you're preparing for Peyton Manning?
Well, the biggest thing that you knew coming into the game was he was basically a coach on the field and he had full control to change plays. I remember just always when we played against him it was very important for us to disguise our look, try to disguise our coverages in hopes of possibly fooling him or getting him to maybe have a false read of what kind of defense we're playing. Obviously he's well-schooled so he had seen basically every look that we were going to provide on that particular day. It's never a replacement for a pass rush so I knew obviously that we had to get to him because if he had time you didn't stand a chance. He was going to pick your dense apart. I think in most cases our approach was to have a keep away mentality. Meaning, on offense to control the game, ball control, try to keep him on the bench. We thought that was the best defense we could have is just having a good offense and keeping Peyton Manning on the sidelines.
Yeah, no doubt about that. Alright kind of putting you on the spot here, feel free to answer how you please, where does Manning stack up on the all-time QB list in your eyes? Number one, top 5? Where does Manning stand to you?
Hands down, he's top five. I've been privileged enough to play with some of the finest quarterbacks you've seen in the league. Playing with Drew Brees obviously and having an opportunity to play with Brett Farve, they're certainly in my top five. Then you have Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers but Peyton Manning by far I think hard to argue if he wasn't top one or two. There are a lot of great quarterbacks to come through the league, you know Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw. I mean the list can go on and on. I think the records at this point speak for themselves, touchdowns, games played, yardage. I would be remiss if I didn't see he was probably top three all time.
I would have to agree with you there, that's for sure. All right Mike, before I let you go, Let the fans know what you're up to these days. How has post-NFL life treating you?
Man, it's a blessing. I have three beautiful kids, a lovely wife. I operate a non-profit organization, 34 Ways Foundation. Our mission is to teach, reach and educate youth. I'm always looking for opportunities to encourage young people to dream big, set their goals high and then work tremendously hard to attain them. I spent most of my time raising my young kids and find opportunities in the community to give back.
Very nice Mike, that's great to hear. We're glad you're doing well. I really appreciate you taking time this morning. We hope to have you on again soon.
Certainly, certainly. Who dat nation, love you guys.