Perhaps Peyton Manning’s connection to orange was so strong that the Denver Broncos were the only real choice for his next team.
After all, of the five teams he interviewed during the nearly two weeks that he was a free agent, only Denver afforded him the opportunity to dress in orange full time as he did during his days the University of Tennessee. Miami features the color only on its alternate third jersey. None of the others had it anywhere on their color wheels.
Or maybe it was that Manning’s ties to the Orange Nation, UT’s rabid fan base, was such that he felt compelled to engage in a big tease.
A week has passed since the NFL’s only four-time most valuable player made his choice, and one thought has lingered: What if he never really considered playing for the Tennessee Titans and met with, and worked out for them only to protect the legacy he so earnestly forged during his four years in Knoxville?
Keep in mind, Manning has more than just a modicum of knowledge about the Titans. He played them twice a year every year since 2002, not to mention once in the postseason prior to that.
Did he really need to immerse himself in all things Titans at the team’s training facility for seven hours to find out what he needed to know? Decked out in an orange shirt no less? Followed by a workout in — of all places — Knoxville?
It’s possible that the only reason he needed to do all of that was to save face.
After all, when the whole thing started, he was free and clear. Titans general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak were on the record in support of the team’s 2011 quarterbacks and expressed no need to pursue an upgrade at that position.
Then Bud Adams went public with his overwhelming desire to bring on Manning, not just for a season or two, but for the rest of his life.
Suddenly, the pressure was on Peyton. If he ignored Adams’ overtures, it would have been as if he turned his back on so many of the people who cheered him so vigorously during his days as a Volunteer.
Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that he paid tribute to that fan base with his interest but never actually considered the Titans a legitimate possibility. That way, at least, he maintained his status as one of the state’s most beloved athletes in any sport.
Or maybe he really just thought Denver provided the best overall working environment.
Whatever the reason — and only Peyton knows for sure — the lesson from this whole affair is that fans need to realize that players do not love their teams as much as fans do.
It’s the nature of athletes, particularly at the professional level. They move on. Quickly.
A pitcher has to get over a home run allowed before he throws his next pitch. A basketball player can’t doubt himself after a miss; he simply needs to shoot the next time he gets the chance. A quarterback does not dwell on an interception; he goes back out and chucks it around some more.
Fans are prone to days of depression after their team loses a big game, while those who play the game shed all the emotion associated with it by the time they are dressed and headed out of the locker room.
Manning is one guy smart enough to understand that.
So while his ties to the state and to the fans who support both the Volunteers and the Titans were not strong enough to make him choose Tennessee, his awareness of those fans’ passion compelled him to include this town in his search for a new professional home.
Even if he moved on long ago.