The story itself is now familiar, looking a lot like the last six weeks for Denver. Their performance was almost predictable, though who they've done it against now the last two games has made it more surprising. Carolina was just the seventh 15-1 or 16-0 team in NFL history and had steamrolled two good teams in two playoff games. And tonight their offense was the pavement.
(Also, weird stat: the last five of those 15-1/16-0 teams have failed to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco and Chicago took home the big prize in 1984 & 1985, and since then every one has fallen short.)
It wasn't Peyton Manning at the wheel. That Denver defense is big and bad and fast. In the end, all the Sheriff had to do was not fall off.
A word here on Malik Jackson. Peyton is Peyton; he's been Davy Crockett around here for a long time now. Britton Colquitt of The Famous Kicking Colquitts played at the tail end of Phillip Fulmer's time in Knoxville and has always been somewhat of a sneaky favorite the way great punters can be.
Malik Jackson played here for two years under Derek Dooley. His final season was one of the worst teams in the history of the program in 2011. He wasn't the most famous player on either of his two teams and is often an afterthought along with the other Dooley Vols.
That dude is a bad man. I hope tonight was a big step in Big Orange Country coming to appreciate and enjoy what he does. Things are getting better in Knoxville every day. It doesn't matter for who or when Malik played, he's a VFL and an exceptional football player. I'm thrilled for him.
Peyton is now the most exceptional when it comes to wins by a starting quarterback. It's fitting, because that's the stat which used to ruffle our orange feathers: Manning plays great, his team comes up short, Manning takes the blame. But here, at what we all assume is the end, Manning didn't have to play great (and he didn't). But man, his defense did. And now he's got a second Super Bowl ring.
Tonight couldn't affect his legacy for us. This wasn't a ring to win more arguments or move up into some imaginary tier or any of that. Tonight was just another gift. Just another smile on our faces.
There will be an official ending in days or weeks, and time for more words and more lists and more memories. But tonight, it's just the smile.
I've heard Peyton reference a number of times getting stuck doing interviews when the Vols beat Alabama in 1995, his sophomore year, busting a ten-year streak for the Tide. Missing the chance to enjoy the fullness of the moment with his teammates. Maybe that's what led to him climbing that ladder and directing The Pride two years later.
There will be an ending. But tonight, it's just the happy. Just the moment. The defense may have done the exceptional driving. But Peyton definitely earned it.