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Many Titans Fans Never Stopped Pulling For Peyton

The loyalty he inspired during his four years at the University of Tennessee never waned over nearly two decades in the NFL

Peyton Manning week at SI is finished, but AllTitans just can’t let go. Today, as an epilogue to the festivities, we offer this look at the unfailing devotion Manning inspired among those who cheered for him at the University of Tennessee and the conflict that later created among those who also support the state’s only NFL franchise.

Before Peyton Manning became the first player from the University of Tennessee in 58 years selected No. 1 in the NFL Draft, he was already a celebrated and revered record-setting quarterback.

That never changed during an 18-year NFL career during which he repeatedly got the best of the state’s only professional football team.

“He’s like a legend around here,” Tennessee native David Deason said.

In 14 seasons as quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning was 13-5 against the Tennessee Titans. Through one stretch, Manning and the Colts won seven division titles in eight seasons, often leaving the Titans scrambling for a wild card or a meaningless consolation prize. At a time when Manning never missed a game, the Titans found themselves playing roulette with their quarterbacks.

Deason, who turned 57 on Friday, along with his wife and two grown girls, are all Manning fans. His oldest daughter, Brittany, attended her first game at Neyland Stadium dressed as a UT cheerleader when Manning helped turn Tennessee into a top five program. The boyfriend of his other daughter, Lydia, has an English Spaniard Spaniel named – you guessed it – Peyton.

A machinist for Trane, David Deason has been a passionate Vols fan long before Manning became UT’s starting quarterback in 1997. He makes routine trips to Knoxville each fall from his home in Erin, Tenn., more than four hours away, and routinely watches the Titans in person at Nissan Stadium.

As a result, the he and his family always pulled for Manning. Like many other, they pulled for the Titans, but hoped Manning would have success the two times each season the Colts and Titans played.

“I would’ve been pulling for Peyton (with the Colts), even though it’s the Titans (that are the) home team, because watching Peyton from college all the way up, to seeing him in person and as he continued to develop from college to the pros he still continued to be a class act and represented his college,” David Deason said.

It was his brief statement during a press conference in March of 1997 that solidified Manning’s mythical status among the UT faithful. Following his junior season, speculation circulated throughout Tennessee about his status as a Vol.

At a time when many juniors were opting to leave early for the draft, it made sense Manning would follow the same pathway. He had other ideas.

“I made up my mind, I don’t expect to ever look back, I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee,” said Manning to a crowd that responded with applause, oddly out of place for a typical press conference.

The press conference interrupted normal programming throughout the state as television stations broadcast it live. Even elementary schools stopped long enough to carry his words over their respective PA systems.

Tennessee won the SEC championship that fall and set the table for the Vols’ national championship run a year later, Manning’s rookie season in the NFL.

When Manning became a free agent in 2012, many believed he would return to the state where he already was revered and finish his NFL career with the Titans. He considered it, but ultimately signed with the Denver Broncos instead.

From 2012 through 2015, the Titans were 18-46. During the same stretch, Manning was 45-12 as the Broncos starting quarterback and capped his career with a victory in Super Bowl 50.

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“I think it would’ve brought excitement to the state,” Deason said. “… Peyton was not just a leader and at the top of the game, but he lifted everyone around him.”

Deason still has his Colts ‘Manning’ jerseys. They’re still hanging in a closet in Deason’s home, one each for him, his wife, Cindy, and daughters, Brittany and Lydia.

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