By Alex Norman

Well, here we go again…

Despite a recent run of futility that only now seems to be ending after eight long years in the college football abyss, the Tennessee Vols are going to be represented in the Super Bowl for the 24th time in the past 25 seasons.

In fact, there are four Tennessee alums playing in Super Bowl 50.  For the Denver Broncos, it is quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end Malik Jackson, and punter Britton Colquitt.

For the Carolina Panthers, it is offensive lineman Chris Scott.

We start with the guy about to make his fourth appearance in a Super Bowl, “The Sheriff,” Peyton Manning.  (By the way when did this nickname start?  I don’t recall getting the memo.  Great nickname though.)  Manning’s 2016 season has been a disaster, up until about 3 weeks ago.  Manning missed seven weeks due to injury and before then threw only 9 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions.

But since coming in to relieve Brock Osweiller in the season finale against San Diego (a game Denver had to win, and did, to gain home field advantage in the AFC playoffs), Manning has fit into the game manager role quite nicely.  In the Broncos two playoff wins over Pittsburgh and New England, Manning completed 55% of his passes for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Manning of 2004 those numbers would be reason for angst.  But Manning’s arm and body simply can’t keep up that pace anymore.  And frankly, Denver needs him to lead, not turn the ball over, make a few plays and most importantly not put their defense in bad situations.

The Denver defense has been spectacular this season, and with one more quality performance could win the third Super Bowl title in franchise history.  And turning to the defense, Malik Jackson has been a steady force for the Broncos.  This season Jackson picked up 45 tackles and 5 sacks.  In the AFC championship game Jackson didn’t record a sack against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but he did get multiple hits on the four-time Super Bowl champion.  In all the Broncos hit Brady at least 20 times, keeping him uncomfortable in the pocket.

For Jackson, this will be his second Super Bowl appearance.  The same for Britton Colquitt.  While the punter is never the most recognizable payer on a football team, his contributions should not be understated.  Now in his seventh NFL season, Colquitt came up big for the Broncos time and time again.  Against the Patriots, Colquitt had 9 punts with a 47 yard average, including four that landed inside the 20.  Don’t discount the job he does holding for place-kicker Brandon McManus either.

For Carolina, Chris Scott is anonymous on the Panthers offensive line.  Scott played in thirteen of Carolina’s regular season games and both playoff wins.  He’s been with the Panthers organization for the past 3 years.

So when watching the Super Bowl you certainly have some Tennessee ties to talk about when standing over the nacho plate.

Of course the big story nationally surrounds Peyton Manning.  Very few high profile athletes have maintained such a strong connection to their school and the city that school resides in than Manning.  If this is indeed the end of his 18 year career, the Vols will lose one of their greatest ambassadors.  Manning will likely always promote Tennessee but won’t have the level of attention as he has today as an NFL quarterback.

Manning’s legacy is complete no matter what happens on Saturday.  He won five NFL MVP awards.  He is the all-time leader in yards passing and in passing touchdowns.  One (or two) Super Bowl titles.  His fans of course would like him to go out with one more championship.

It would be the perfect ending to a legendary career.

Knoxville will be watching on Sunday to see if it happens.