Pullin' for Peyton

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer has strong ties to Chicago Bears boss Lovie Smith (who was his first hire) and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (who was his first superstar signee).

With Smith and Manning meeting in Sunday's Super Bowl, you'd figure Fulmer might have divided loyalties. You'd be wrong, though. Fulmer is behind Peyton Manning 100 percent. Based on his recent recruiting trips, Fulmer thinks most of America is.

"It seems that people are pulling for Peyton everywhere," the Vol coach said.

Asked if he feels somewhat obligated to pull for Smith (who coached Vol defensive backs in 1993-94) because of their professional ties, Fulmer shook his head.

"No," he said. "There's loyalties, and then there's loyalties. I certainly admire what Lovie has done. Lovie was my first hire as a head football coach. He was highly recommended. I interviewed him and just knew he was going to be successful."

Still, Fulmer makes no secret of his fondness for Manning, who led Tennessee to a 39-5 record in 3½ seasons as the Vols' starting quarterback (1994-97). Fulmer believes the former Vol standout is handling the Super Bowl hype quite well as the biggest game of his pro career approaches.

"He'll handle it like he always does," Fulmer said. "He told me he's going to keep as close to his routine as he can, have very little outside contact with people. He's going to be studying tape or (working) with his receivers or in meetings. He'll keep his routine, I promise you."

Although he admittedly is pulling for Manning, Fulmer says he has great respect for Smith, who has assembled the NFL's finest defense in Chicago.

"He's one of those guys that's quiet on the sidelines," Fulmer said. "Stoic isn't the right word, but he's in control. That's the same way that he coached (at UT). He also had an intensity about him in what expected from his players.

"He was a great student of the game. He was able to articulate feelings and assignments and techniques and all those things extremely well. You knew he was going to be a success. Did I know he was going to be the coach of a Super Bowl team? No. But I knew he was going to do well."

For all of his success in college, Manning never beat Florida. As fate would have it, the Bears are quarterbacked by former Gator star Rex Grossman. Asked if he finds this ironic, Fulmer shook his head.

"No," the Vol coach said. "Grossman did extremely well in college, and he's done well in pro football. He's a tough guy, a fighter and a competitor. It is Tennessee-Florida in the Super Bowl, and that's kind of unique."

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