It's the number one rule of fandom: You can only have one favorite team.
Other teams may catch your eye for a number of different reasons. You can certainly cheer for those teams when it's not in direct conflict with your favorite team. But if I ask you who your favorite team is in any given sport and you instantly rattle off two answers, you're not doing it right.
Many in the state of Tennessee have been walking a fine line for the last fourteen years. Unified by a common love for the Vols and their favorite son, some Tennesseans have found themselves cheering for both the state's professional football team in Nashville, and the quarterback who played for that team's biggest divisional rival. It's even easier to do if, like most in the south, you care much, much more about Saturdays than Sundays.
The Titans had their fun with Steve McNair and Eddie George, but most of the last ten years belonged to Peyton Manning. And within the state, it showed. This poll on our site back on August 12 showed more people cared about Manning in Indianapolis than the Titans in Nashville among Vol fans. It's one of the greatest compliments to Manning's legacy in and around Tennessee: only he could make an entire generation of Vol fans choose one player over the state's team.
When Manning left Indianapolis and fought back tears at the press conference, we were reminded of better days and better press conferences. And Manning's legion of followers in the Volunteer State - of whom I've yet to find one who followed the Kerry Collins/Curtis Painter Colts beyond Week 2 last season - were all ready to go wherever their hero landed next. Miami. Arizona. Even Seattle and its one degree of separation from Lane Kiffin. Just give us the logo and the jersey number, Peyton, and we will buy it.
And then Bud Adams opened his big mouth, and now everybody's pissed.
We Vol fans forget sometimes that, after the Atlanta Braves, there are few professional sports teams that pull in as many different diehard college fanbases as the Tennessee Titans. So if you live in Alabama or Mississippi, or if you were among the group of fans from the would-be-speaking-Spanish-if-not-for-us UT who, in similar fashion, supported the Titans as long as Vince Young was there, you've spent the last fourteen years hating Manning, simply because he was the quarterback for Indianapolis. If you'd like to see the reaction of those Titans fans today, observe our friends at Music City Miracles:
Chris Mortensen has tweeted that Peyton Manning will be signing with the Denver Broncos. That means it is all but official. I went over this a little bit last week with the overreaction to the Broncos' plane heading to North Carolina, but my hatred for Peyton now reaches previously unknown heights. There was really no reason for him to string the Tennessee fanbase along for a week when it was pretty much already decided that he was going to the Broncos.
Non-UT Titans fans are either upset because Manning didn't come to Nashville, or because Tennessee's involvement in the Manning sweepstakes probably came at the cost of other free agent signings, or both. Nothing good has ever come from Bud Adams putting his personal endorsement on a quarterback in Nashville.
What's more, a franchise that has never had the full support of its own football-crazy state certainly won't get it by a significant percentage of its fans ramping up the hatred for Manning. For the record, I don't blame the author of that post or any non-UT Titans fans for feeling that way, at all. I'm sure it's what I would do if I grew up somewhere other than Knoxville. But this move guarantees that most diehard Vol fans who weren't already Titans fans won't be creating their own bandwagon and heading to Nashville when Peyton retires; look for Tyler Bray jerseys underneath their Christmas trees in 2014 (stay in school, Tyler).
But now what's also happened is that some UT fans got caught up in this fiasco and fell in love with the idea of their favorite son returning "home", even though Knoxville and Nashville are, you know, not the same thing. And when it didn't happen, some now feel betrayed. To no surprise, there's stuff like this:
LeBron's burning jersey nods. "@dylanlarocca: Peyton just slapped all vol fans in the face I'm burning all my Manning stuff.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) March 19, 2012
Here's the truth: Peyton Manning gave all he had for the University of Tennessee. He owed the Tennessee Titans absolutely nothing.
It's even possible that Manning visited Nashville in the first place simply because of UT fans. Bud Adams created a no-win scenario when he made a public cry for Manning. If Peyton didn't visit at all, people would've still overreacted. The Titans are an organization with a solid veteran and a promising second year player already in the stable at quarterback. The Titans didn't need Manning, plain and simple. There were always going to be better options for Manning than Nashville, and he clearly believes Denver to be among them.
But more to the point, Tennessee fans: at this point, what more could you possibly ask from him than what he already gave us?
Think back to before Manning's Super Bowl run in 2006/early 2007. Back to when everyone was dropping that "can't win the big one" lie. That nonsense infuriated us more than anyone, because we knew the truth: it was Manning who made the biggest difference in turning around the biggest game we have around here, ending a decade of Alabama dominance on the Third Saturday in October. And it was Manning who led us to victory in the 1997 SEC Championship Game, keeping the Vols in the hunt for the National Championship, bringing the program its first SEC title in its first appearance in Atlanta, and doing so by playing what I still believe to be the best game of his entire career here: 373 yards and four touchdowns, enough to carry his team through five fumbles to a championship.
Peyton Manning is our hero for a reason. And that's something that can never be taken away, especially fourteen years later, by him choosing Denver over Nashville.
I'm a Titans fan, always have been. Would it have been fun to watch him play for my favorite team? Absolutely. Was it the best football move the Titans could've made? I doubt it. Am I a little upset that it isn't going to happen? Sure.
But words like betrayed have no place here. Peyton Manning gave UT fans everything and owes us nothing more. Manning made his own decision based on what he believed to be best for his own career. And I have little doubt that most of the Tennesseans who are upset today that he isn't coming to Nashville will still find their way to the Broncos sooner or later.
But there is nothing - nothing - that Peyton Manning could do now to lessen his place in the story of Tennessee Football.
The Titans will go on with Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, and I hope and believe very much they still have a chance to be very successful. And the legion of Tennesseans who've been cheering for the Colts will probably now find their way to the Broncos.
But one part of this story will never, ever change:
Peyton Manning is a Vol for Life, no matter what uniform he wears in the NFL.