In fact that's a process most Big Orange fans can relate to as they count down the days till "football time in Tennessee" when the eruption of pent-up passions from assembled masses echo from good old Rocky Top like rolling thunder across the fertile Tennessee valley.
When you aren't speculating about the season ahead, you might find yourself reliving seasons past rejoicing in moments that flicker in the memory like a film projector illuminates the dark. Invariably, imbibing in such images leads to thoughts like: Which was the greatest Tennessee team of all time? Who was the best running back? What was the most exciting game?
When such speculation turns to players, debate is sure to ensue and each perception is largely limited to one's personal experience as a spectator. That brings us to a recent poll question posted on Inside Tennessee's premium message board where readers are asked to respond to the following scenario. It's fourth down and three yards to go at midfield with two minutes remaining in the game. Who would you want as your quarterback: Casey Clausen, Peyton Manning, Tee Martin, Heath Shuler or Andy Kelly?
Interestingly, a very similar question came up around the Rocky Top office recently when we speculated on the following scenario. It's fourth and goal at the 6 yard-line with three second remaining and Tennessee trailing 21-17. Who would you want as your quarterback: Casey Clausen, Peyton Manning, Heath Shuler, Tony Robinson or Condredge Holloway? This group allows us to extend the time line back 30 years and includes QBs from the present day with two from the 90s, and one each from the 80s and 70s. Additionally, it presents a final play resolution where we don't have to consider if we wanted the same quarterback that picks up the first down to take the team the rest of the way home.
Of course, the personnel on defense would go a long way toward determining an answer, so let's examine the field of candidates assuming it's a typical SEC speed team, that tries to compress time by aggressively pressuring the passer. We might also need to know what personnel would line up with our quarterback, but then we start to analyze all the fun out it. It's like refusing to laugh at the new Austin Powers movie because you can't accept the inane premise.
Ideally you'd like a quarterback with mobility in this situation and both Shuler and Holloway fit the bill, whereas Manning and Clausen are classic drop-back passers while Robinson falls somewhere between the two categories. In other words,he had outstanding passing skills and could hurt you with the run, but he wasn't the ground threat posed by Shuler and Holloway.
Shuler was perhaps the most physically gifted of any Tennessee quarterback, and he was, undoubtedly, the strongest runner of this group. Unfortunately, Shuler's resume lacked late-game heroics from his college career. He engineered a couple of high-powered offenses that blew a lot of teams out of the water, but he got few chances to showcase his talent under the duress of a deficit and a tough defense. He failed to produce twice in such contests against Alabama (1992 and 1993) although the '93 game finished in a tie. Tennessee also lost close contests in 1992 against Arkansas and South Carolina. He did hit a big pass in his first SEC start against Georgia to rally the Vols to a big win at Athens, but such moments were too few to get the nod in this fantasy.
Conversely, Clausen has carved his niche in close contests and proven himself up to the challenge with his competitive fire and cool composure. Clausen is probably the least likely on this group to beat you with the run, but he proved his valor in scoring touchdowns in wins over LSU and Notre Dame last season. He also has the touch you like near the goal line and he possesses a knack for finding the open receiver. He's also shown a tendency to hurry throws as he did in the second LSU game when the Vols misfired on three straight aerials from the 3 yard-line. His best football is still in front of him, and since we can only speculate on how much he'll improve, we'll pass on Clausen based strictly on what he's proven to this point.
Tony Robinson is an intriguing possibility because of his combination of arm strength, ability to throw on the run and passing touch. You might recall how he led the Vols to a 28-27 come-from-behind victory over Alabama in 1984 scoring the go ahead 2-point conversion on a perfectly executed counter option. A year later against Alabama, Robinson was felled by a serious knee injury that ended his college playing days and his life hit a downward spiral that swallowed his chances for a professional career. His light was further dimmed by the fact that Tennessee went the rest of the way undefeated in 1985 and beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl with fifth-year senior Daryl Dickey at the controls. Overall Robinson only finished 14 games for UT so we'll have to disqualify him on the grounds of unrealized potential and character issues. With that said: he still might have been the best pure passer to ever play for the Vols.
That leaves Manning and Holloway who bring completely different talents to the table. Manning would have a six-inch height advantage while Holloway is far more elusive. Both had good arm strength and were proven winners under the gun. Manning amassed a much better record at Tennessee, but he also had a better supporting cast.
Manning's acumen at recognizing defenses would be a plus as would his quick release. His grasp of a more sophisticated offense would give him more options at the line of scrimmage than Holloway. Manning also goes through progressions like nobody's business and often reached his fourth check down before throwing the ball.
Where Manning brings outstanding game management skills into the equation, Holloway brings pure genius and an escapability that is unapproached in the annals of Tennessee history. Manning has a big statistical edge in the match up, but he also had nearly 900 more pass attempts than Holloway.
In his senior year alone Holloway personally saved Tennessee from defeat four times including the season opener against UCLA when he returned from a x-rays to lead UT to a tying touchdown. Then in the regular season finale, he took the Vols on a last ditch drive through a driving rain storm to tie rival Vanderbilt at Dudley Field hitting for both a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion. In between he paced a last minute 29-28 victory over Clemson hitting a two-point pass to Larry Seivers after reversing his field on a roll out right and being sandwich between Tiger tacklers. In the 1973 opener against Duke, Holloway led Tennessee to a 21-17 comeback victory scoring the go ahead touchdown on a his patented dive to the pylon. It was this uncanny ability to catapult his body airborne on the dead run, and his elusiveness that made Holloway so dangerous near the goal line. For instance: Holloway's run against Georgia Tech in '73 in which he eluded eight tacklers to score a touchdown is arguably the best in UT football history. Deemed too small for the NFL, Holloway went on to become one of the best QBs ever in the Canadian Football League displaying the same desire and daring that distinguished his career at Tennessee.
Make the situation a season, a game or a series and it would be hard to argue with Manning as the top choice among this group, but if it's one play to win a game from the 6 yard-line I'd hand the ball to Holloway and say: 'show me the magic.'