His résumé is long and impressive. He’s won a Super Bowl and was named the MVP of the game, he’s won four NFL MVP Awards, is a 12-time Pro Bowler, 6-time AFC Offensive Player of the Year, holds more than 40 NFL passing records and is a sure fire Hall of Fame player as soon as he is eligible.
He had his number retired by the University of Tennessee and even had a street — “Peyton Manning Pass” — named after him in Knoxville. For all of his accomplishments, both professionally and in college, there is one thing that he will never be able to say that he accomplished, one blemish on one of the most illustrious careers of any player who has played the game of football.
Peyton Manning can never say what it feels like to beat the University of Florida. Manning went 0-4 against the Gators (0-3 as a starter).
Conversely, this senior class of Gators has an opportunity this Saturday to complete a four-year sweep of their own against the Volunteers.
“It would mean a lot,” Senior Jaylen Watkins said. “This is a big rival for us. I didn’t realize the rivalry until I got here. I only knew about Florida State and in-state rivals. But this is a great rivalry and it would be great to leave knowing I never lost to Tennessee.”
An eight year winning streak over their hated rivals from Tennessee means there have been four classes of Volunteers who have never experienced what it’s like to beat Florida and four classes of Gators who know nothing but what it feels like to sing the alma mater triumphantly in front of the Pride of the Sunshine after beating Tennessee.
Not every player was as open with the media as Watkins was about the opportunity to go undefeated against the Vols. Trey Burton and Jonotthan Harrison are both eager to just get into the SEC schedule.
“I mean, it means a lot more to go 1-0 in the SEC,” Burton said when asked how important it would be for him to sweep Tennessee. “Every SEC game is big for us.”
“It would mean a lot. It would mean a lot to me,” Harrison said before turning his attention back to the beginning of conference play. “I’m just excited, we’re still in the running where we can compete for an SEC championship.”
And for other, more colorfully spoken players, like Dominique Easley, he doesn’t care if the Gators are playing a peewee football team or the Seattle Seahawks, he just wants to win.
“That would be a great thing to do,” Easley said about sweeping Tennessee. “Always win, that’s what you want to do when you play sports, play anything.”
While the players may not realize it now, they have an opportunity to do something truly special this Saturday. To be able to say that you never lost to a rival is an amazing accomplishment. The opportunity that this senior class has on Saturday is something that they will be able to boast about long after their playing days are done. The opportunity to say, “I never lost to the University of Tennessee” is something they will tell to their kids, grand kids and anybody else with ears as long as they live.
So while the players try to keep this game in perspective and treat the Vols as just another “nameless, faceless” opponent, there is more on the line for them this Saturday than just starting the SEC schedule off with a win.