Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 2/20/12
Will he or won't he? That is a question only Peyton Manning can answer. Of course no personal decision from a public figure goes without scrutiny. So pundits continue to make passionate arguments for Peyton to stay and play one more year and to hang it up and call it a career. On the one hand, he has a Super Bowl ring and a corner waiting for him in the Hall of Fame. He has more endorsement deals than any other NFL player and could step into the broadcast booth the day after announcing his retirement. Plus, regenerating nerves is no easy thing. He could be out for another full year even if he wanted to play. On the other hand, Peyton has earned the right to go out on his own terms. There are still some records he would like to break, and, of course, there is the sibling challenge. Brother Eli has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton's one. The older Manning would certainly like another shot at the game's ultimate prize. These are all great points, but the truth is: nobody knows what Peyton will do. It is reminiscent of another time, 15 years ago, when the same questions will he stay or will he go? were being asked about the same player. A lot of people forget that Peyton was the third-string quarterback his freshman year at Tennessee. If things had gone according to plan he probably wouldn't have taken a snap. But starter Jerry Colquit (who would go on to play for the Frankfurt Galaxy) went down with a knee injury seven plays into the season. That opened the door for future Colorado Rockies star, Todd Helton, who was the second string QB. But Helton also went down with a knee, cementing his career as a first baseman and opening the door for Peyton, who lost only one game as a starter in his freshman year and beat Virginia Tech 45-23 in the Gator Bowl. The legend grew from there. In 1995 he finished sixth in the Heisman voting as a sophomore and led the Vols to a one-loss season (the only blemish being a 62-45 loss to Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators in a game where Peyton threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns). His junior year, the Vols finished 10-2 (losing again to Florida and being upset by Memphis) and ranked ninth in the nation. That is when the questions hit a fever pitch. Peyton graduated in three years and was projected to be the overall No.1 pick in the 1997 draft. No one expected him to return to Knoxville. Why would he? He had seen what happened to Colquit and Helton. Why risk a potential injury when he had no chance of improving his draft position? You couldn't go higher than No.1. What was the point? The point was: Peyton felt like he had unfinished business. And since the decision was his alone, he made it. "I made up my mind and I don't expect to ever look back," he said at his press conference. "I'm going to stay at the University of Tennessee." No, it didn't make sense. He had nothing more to prove at the college level, but he didn't stay to prove anything to anyone other than himself. When asked the inevitable question, why, he said, "Because my mama already has a house." "He's been very mature about the whole thing," his father, Archie, said at the time. "The best thing is: he's happy. He's having a good college experience. We as parents, that's all we want for our children: not trophies or anything like that. We want him to enjoy college. These should be the best days of his life." There turned out to be better days: many in fact. Peyton didn't hurt himself by staying an extra year. He became Tennessee's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns, and won 39 games as a starter. The trophy he should have won, the Heisman, went to Charles Woodson, but he won the SEC Championship in his senior season and named conference MVP. None of that will likely have any bearing on his decision now. Fourteen years is an eternity for an NFL player, so either way, the Manning legacy is written. But the thing to remember when debating the merits of Peyton staying or going is what he said before his senior year of college. "It's fun," he said of Tennessee. "Whether it's two-a-days, or running out of the tunnel for the first game, or the last home game, or the last game: those are experiences you'll never forget. As long as I'm having fun, I want it to continue."
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