Remember when the Tennessee football program was considered to be elite amongst the nation’s best? The Vols were at the top of the food chain in the highly tumultuous SEC, and every Saturday in the fall the sound of Rocky Top resonated throughout the south. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, UT was at its peak and in 1998 planted its flag at the proverbial mountain top. One of the key reasons was a young man named Tamaurice Martin from Mobile, Alabama, better known as Tee.
Although recruited to play quarterback for the University of Tennessee, Tee Martin was but a mere footnote on the depth chart during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because he was the backup to another player to the legend, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Peyton was the star of Knoxville, and there was no way anyone would leapfrog him. However it was Martin’s choice to attend Tennessee because he believed that Peyton would bolt for the NFL after his junior season, which would have been Tee’s chance to take over the reigns as a sophomore. But although Manning received his degree in three years, he decided to return for for his senior year, forcing Martin to carry the clipboard for at least one more season.
In 1998 the Manning era was over, and it was finally Tee-Time. While he may not have been Peyton, Martin delivered in a way that even the legend would be jealous of. Although his statistics might pale in comparison to Manning, 2,164 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 57.3, Tee had a special number that Manning could never obtain, and that is the number 12, as in the number of wins that completed an undefeated regular season and a second consecutive SEC championship. But it was in the Fiesta Bowl that his legend grew.
9:27 to go in the inaugural BCS National Championship Game in Tempe, Arizona. Tennessee clinging to a 14-9 lead over Florida State. The Vols facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 21-yard-line. Tee Martin’s 3-step drop…Martin slipping as he plants his right foot…Martin stepping up and launching a bomb just as a lunging Florida State defender was reaching for his right arm…Peerless Price grabbing the on-the-money ball and out-racing Seminoles to the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. It was the play of the game as Tennessee defeated Florida State 23-16 for the school’s first consensus national championship since 1951.
Martin would go on to have an outstanding senior season as well. He led Tennessee to another trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 1999 and was named All-SEC first team. He set NCAA game (since-tied 23 versus South Carolina) and season (since-broken 24) records for consecutive completions in 1998. His career numbers include 326 completions, 4,592 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. He is sixth on Tennessee's career passing list and his 2,317 yards from the 1999 campaign rank 10th on the school's single-season list.
After Tennessee, Martin was selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, beginning a 6-year pro career. After two seasons with the Steelers and the 2001 AFC Central Division title, he went on to NFL Europe in 2002 and led the Rhein Fire to a league-best 7-3 record and a berth in the World Bowl. He returned to the NFL with the Oakland Raiders in 2003 and then moved on to the Canadian Football League from two years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He is currently the Wide Receivers Coach and Pass Game Coordinator for USC.
Another QB with great impact joins the college football #TSLThrowbackAttack