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It's Been 20 Years Since Peyton Manning, The Jets, And The D

Postby Angel92 » Sat May 06, 2017 12:49 pm

Twenty years ago, the NFL draft was marked by one of the most fateful quarterback choices in league history: Peyton Manning’s decision toMario Edwards Youth Jersey stay at the University of Tennessee for his senior year. The Jets, who had the No. 1 pick in 1997, are still reeling from the aftershocks. And it all may have been because Bill Parcells couldn’t commit to what practically everyone else thought was a sure thing.
Manning’s prolific NFL career can be summed up thusly: He’s one of the greatest passers in history. The end. But what set Manning apart back as far back as his college days was his status as a fail-safe prospect, a franchise savior. His 17-year career with the Colts and Broncos played out largely the way most observers and fans anticipated it would. But then, as now, quarterbacks were a scarce commodity. Then, as now, front offices thirsty for quarterbacks would panic themselves into believing any old chump at the top of the prospect heap could be molded into Joe Montana or Tom Brady. But Peyton Manning was different. He was that rarest of gems. He had that generational pedigree.
Now consider what could have been had he elected to declare for the draft after his junior season at Tennessee: The Jets, whose franchise history has more or less been a fruitless 40-year search for Joe Namath’s replacement, were up first. In the spring of ’97, the Jets were coming off a 1-15 nightmare that had shoved head coach Rich Kotite into permanent exile somewhere on Staten Island. But they had just hired Bill Parcells, whose handiwork to date included swift, massive construction projects with both the Giants and Patriots. Parcells had just taken the Pats to the Super Bowl, and the Jets had to compensate the Patriots for taking him away. There was some jousting, but in the end that compensation did not include the No. 1 pick in the draft. A Manning-Parcells pairing seemed to be inevitable.
If only it had been that simple.
David Cutcliffe told me he was “convinced” Manning would leave for the NFL after Manning’s junior season. Now the head coach at Duke, Cutcliffe was Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee. He was so sure Manning was a goner that he had begun making preparations for a complete re-do of the Volunteers’ offense.
On the night before Manning held a press conference to announce his decision, Cutcliffe said he was in Atlanta with a few other coaches to meet with Dan Reeves, then the head coach of the Falcons. Cutcliffe was there learn a few new offensive concepts from Reeves. But then the phone at his hotel rang around 1 a.m. It was Manning calling. Cutcliffe described Manning as a “practical joker” who gave off every indication he would be leaving school. So Cutcliffe initially wasn’t sure whether to believe him when Manning said he was staying. Manning soon let him know this was no gag.
“We went back to Knoxville right then,” Cutcliffe told me.
Rich Cimini has covered the Jets—without hazard pay—since 1985, first with Newsday, then with the New York Daily News, now with He was at the Daily News at the time of Manning’s decision, and he wrote a story the morning of Manning’s press-conference announcement that said Manning was staying in school. Cimini got the info from what he thought was a rock-solid source. But, as Cimini wrote last year:
The headline Cimini saw splashed across page Page A-1 of the Knoxville News-Sentinel on March 5, 1997, read: “Manning’s moment; Grid decision: Insiders expect him to go pro.” But the actual story was more nuanced; it cited separate sources saying two different things. As Cutcliffe’s story demonstrates, it was clear Manning had kept his true feelings close to the vest. Manning even set up his announcement by delivering what Cimini described as “a 30-second preamble in which he made it sound like he was leaving school” before he finally said he was staying. Manning’s stated rationale was that he Franco Harris Kids Jersey only got to be a college kid once, and he wanted to milk the experience for all it was worth—a not unreasonable stance, even for a guy who risked sacrificing millions in the event of a catastrophic injury.
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