Before we go carting Mr. Martin up any steep slopes with the hope of erasing any possible wrong doings by thrusting him into a fiery abyss, perhaps we should re-write a Hollywood script.
Instead of "It's a Wonderful Life", lets call our piece "Miracle on Tee Martin Drive" and see what Tennessee football history might have been like without Tee Martin.
Introduction - September 5th 1998, after patiently waiting behind Tennessee's favorite son Peyton Manning, Tee Martin makes his debut as the Vols starting quarterback in the season opener vs. Syracuse. The Vols burst out with a formidable lead but later succumb to home field advantage (and the arm of Donovan McNabb). Trailing by 2 points with only seconds left, Tee Martin orchestrated a drive that put the Vols in field goal range. Jeff Hall nailed it and the Vols were on their way to bigger and better things.
Scene 2 - September 19th 1998 - The Gators visit Knoxville anticipating another notch in their belt. The 6th to be precise. You see the Gators had not lost to Tennessee since 1992. Despite all of his success, the middle son of Archie and Olivia Manning, Peyton could not conjure a win over his green nemesis. Tee Martin did not single handedly defeat the Gators on this evening but with a solid performance and an against all odds touchdown completion, he led the Vols to victory in the team's first ever overtime game.
Scene 3 - October 24th 1998 – This game of significance, customarily played on the 3rd Saturday in October, was played against longtime rival Alabama. The Vols were three wins into and looking to add number four, to a streak that now spans 7 consecutive victories over the Tide. Something important to consider about this victory is that no Vol quarterback since 1955 has been able to say that they had beaten Alabama and Florida in the same year. Not Peyton Manning, not Heath Shuler, not Andy Kelly, not Streater, Robinson, Holloway or Warren and the list goes on and on. None of them beat Alabama and Florida in the same year. Tee Martin Did.
Scene 4 - October 31st 1998 – Historically South Carolina has not been particularly frightening to the Vols and this Halloween scrimmage was no different. The thing about this game that stands out is the dazzling aerial display that took place. No time before or since has any quarterback at any Division-1 school thrown for 23 consecutive completions. Tee Martin did during a 49-14 rout of the Gamecocks in Columbia - 95.83% passing perfection.
Scene 5 - December 5th 1998 – The Vols play in their 2nd consecutive SEC championship. Of note, a Tee Martin lead team had just completed the first undefeated regular season since 1956. The Vols trailed Mississippi State in the second half when Tee Martin completed two touchdown passes on consecutive drives insuring victory and putting the Vols at 12-0 poised to play for the national championship. By the way, the Vols had never been 12-0 before in over 100 years of playing football.
Finale - January 4th 1999 – The Vols could have faced UCLA or Kansas State for the championship but a victory and the measure of their success would have always been questioned. The real test is to play someone like Florida State – a team that wins at least 10 ball games every year. The Vols did in fact play FSU for the championship on this day, the very first #1 vs. #2 Bowl Championship Series match-up in history. The Vols emerged victorious, largely due to two Tee Martin strikes of over 70 yards. The national championship was only the Vols 2nd consensus title and the first since 1951.
- A cute little girl says – "Every time a touchdown's scored, a football gets its wings" Use your imagination (P.A.T.)
What would it have been like without Tee Martin? Well, the Vols would probably still have won more than they lost. The sun would have risen each day. Saturdays in Knoxville would have brought traffic to a stand still and Neyland Stadium would have sold out every week.
The truth, oh yea lest we forget the truth. The truth is… Tee Martin is a great Vol. He should always be regarded fondly and with great respect. Tee gave the Vols a lot to be proud of and accomplishments for which he should always be remembered.
What I say to those who think Tee should be erased from Vol history is this… Tear those pages from the media guide and set fire to them. They might need something to keep them warm at night.