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Watching Tennessee This Year and the Tennessee of 1997

On Sunday night, after watching a boring at best Tennessee-Utah State game, we were taken back to 1997, to Peyton Manning, to Tennessee at its finest

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

One thing about the SEC Network that has probably been overlooked as the network has begun to take shape are the replays and analysis of classic SEC games.

In recent years, we've never been able to just flip to a channel to watch an SEC Championship replay when you're limited to the oh-so-boring MLB on a weekday night. In recent years, we've never been able to tune into a channel to watch Peyton Manning back when he was in college. And in recent years, we haven't been able to flash back to a period of time, like 1997, when Tennessee football was clearly regarded as an upper-echelon program in the Southeastern Conference.

Thankfully, though, those recent years have passed. On Sunday night, after watching a boring at best Tennessee-Utah State game, we were taken back to 1997, to Peyton Manning, to Tennessee at its finest.

I guess it was only fitting, though, that Tennessee crushed Utah State on the SEC Network just prior. They looked like a Volunteers team of old. Led by defense and a passing game, they looked like a program that could once again compete at the top in the SEC. And that is an awesome sight for any SEC fan -- well, I guess that's a bit false assuming you root for Big Al in Tuscaloosa or Albert the Gator in Gainesville.

After the game, the SEC Network series "SEC Rewind" took us back to the days of the VCR, as Auburn and Tennessee faced off in the 1997 SEC Championship Game.

Here's some background information: Unlike many of you, I didn't watch this game live, I didn't live in Tennessee's heyday. I was 5 months old when these two teams battled in the Georgia Dome. But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy watching this replay just like you did.

The game began with Manning at quarterback throwing a long touchdown pass to Peerless Price after a fake handoff to Jamal Lewis. The fact that these three guys all played on the same team is pretty awesome, but hey, that's beside the point. Manning was brilliant in college, everyone (including me) knows that. How didn't he win the Heisman Trophy? That's a question for that committee, not me, because he clearly was the best player in the country.

After the Vols took a 7-0 lead, Auburn took the reins. The Russell Athletic-sponsored Tigers battled back thanks to solid quarterbacking from Dameyune Craig, Auburn's current co-offensive coordinator and secret-weapon recruiter. They made it a game, but Manning was just too good, and the Volunteers, led by Phillip Fulmer, went on to win, 30-29.

It was cool to see Tennessee win a game like that. I've never hated the school, nor do I really like them, but their past success is often avoided. Tennessee has great fans, Knoxville is an incredible atmosphere for a college football game and their facilities are not lacking in comparisons to even the new Texas A&M locker room. Not to mention their fans' knowledge of and passion for the game that has captivated the SEC for so many years. The energy, the excitement, the enthusiasm that was portrayed to me by their fans in that SEC Championship really did strike me. And so did the fashion in which Tennessee played Sunday night.

Every year, Tennessee wins a game in convincing fashion like they did against Utah State, and Brandon mentioned that and based his article around that Sunday night. Can they sustain it? They couldn't under Dooley or Kiffin, but Butch Jones is a different story. This guy demands success; he breathes it. He coaches with the fire, the intensity that one must to go through a schedule like the one Tennessee has to go through this year.

Chuckie Keeton will tell you that, just like John Chavis's defense for the Vols back in '97, A.J. Johnson and the crew are good enough to lead Tennessee back into contention for a spot on top of the mountain.