Could UT’s Berry exact Peyton’s Revenge?


If you want to anger the soul of a loyal Tennessee Volunteer, just bring up 1997.

Tennessee fans can give you every detail of that exhilarating, frustrating year. It was the year that they lost to the Gators 33-20 in Gainesville but then won the rest of them in the regular season. It was the year that the Vols won their first SEC championship under Phillip Fulmer with quarterback Peyton Manning leading the way.  On the night of SEC championship game Manning rallied Tennessee from a 20-7 deficit by throwing for 373 yards. That total included a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Nash early in the fourth quarter, which proved to be the game winner, 30-29.

Afterwards, Manning was named the game’s MVP and capped off the evening by directing the Tennessee band as it played “Rocky Top.”

I was convinced that one week later, Manning would add one more shining star to his resume by winning the Heisman Trophy. I was wrong. Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson was handed the hardware at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. How shocking was it? Woodson was the last non-quarterback/running back to win college football’s most prestigious award.

Tennessee fans haven’t gotten over it. The fact is they’ll never get over it. Peyton Manning was the best player in college football in 1997. To me it wasn’t close. But for the fourth time in Tennessee’s illustrious football history, Volunteer fans had seen one of their greatest players finish second for the Heisman. Shoot, it had only been 41 years since Johnny Majors (whose Tennessee team was 10-0) had finished second to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung, who played on a 2-8 team in 1956. Forty years from now the Big Orange Nation will still feel deeply that Manning got cheated out of a Heisman Trophy.

That’s why a little part of you should be rooting for Eric Berry.

Tennessee has announced that it will launch a Heisman Trophy campaign for Berry, the junior safety from Fairburn. Here is his website:


I met with Eric during SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., and asked him about the Heisman.

“I just appreciate the fact that the Tennessee people think that much of me,” said Berry. “People have asked me if a defensive back can win the Heisman. It has happened before. I just want Tennessee to win football games.”

Berry has been the best defensive player in the SEC since he walked onto the Tennessee campus. He is so good that he only needs 15 interception return yards to break the NCAA career record of 501 set by Florida State’s Terrell Buckley (1989-91).

“You just don’t run across talent like that every day,” said head coach Lane Kiffin, who announced when he took over that 21 out of 22 positions on the team were up for competition. Berry’s was safe. “He’s special. He’s a difference maker. I’m glad he’s playing for Tennessee.”

Are the odds against Berry winning the Heisman? You bet. It is a major long shot. Three quarterbacks who went to New York last year—Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy—are back. Tebow and Bradford already have one Heisman in their trophy cases. If one of those guys doesn’t get the Heisman it will be a huge, huge upset.

And Kiffin has said that as tempting as it is, he won’t use Berry on offense. Berry is coming off shoulder surgery. If Berry were on making plays on offense, some of the Heisman voters might notice. But I agree with Kiffin. It’s too great a risk for a team that will rely on its defense to win in 2009.

But wouldn’t it be a delicious irony that if 12 years after the bitter disappointment of watching their beloved Manning finish second to a defensive back, Tennessee fans could see Berry waltz in front of those rock-star quarterbacks and snatch the Heisman like one of his 12 career interceptions?

Just call it Peyton’s Revenge. How cool would that be?

What do you think? Is it still possible for a defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy?



91 comments Add your comment


July 30th, 2009
8:31 am

Don’t know that it’s possible this year for Berry to win it given all the hype that will follow the big 3 QB’s, deserved or not.

Any other year, he’d have a chance. I think Berry is a better player and has more impact than Woodson did in ‘97. Berry is a GREAT player and makes the UT D something to worry about. You have to gameplan based on where his is (similar to Percy H.) and he makes the unit better by just being on the field. He’s definitely a once in a decade type player. Enjoy him Vols, we all wish we had him instead.


July 30th, 2009
8:32 am

I think a defensive player could win it this year, but his name will be Brandon Spikes


July 30th, 2009
8:35 am


July 30th, 2009
8:37 am

I don’t believe a defensive play will win a Heisman anytime in the near future. Berry is the best defensive back in the country and he will win an award for that and become a NFL #1 pick and have a great NFL career just like Manning. The reason Payton didn’t win was he could not beat his biggest rival…the Florida Gators. If he had beaten the Gators that one year, he would have won the Heisman. It is that simple.


July 30th, 2009
8:39 am

Technically speaking, you were fourth!!! And what does it matter, and who cares?


July 30th, 2009
8:41 am

FIRST of all… was the media that had to come up with someone to “challenge” Manning. When ESPN, ABC, CBS all started the novelty of considering a defensive player it just took off and they couldn’t stop it. What started out as a topic of discussion grew. Manning was such a huge favorite that there was no other player even worthy. Woodson was much like the current president we have…….a media creation.I would feel safe saying that the people that vored for Woodson knew then and know now that Manning should have won it. And how the hell did the golden boy Hornung win over Majors in 1956 with less personal and team stats than Majors?


July 30th, 2009
8:41 am

I am both a diehard SEC/Vols fan and a Michigan fan by marriage. Peyton got screwed but Woodson was, like Berry, a DB talent more rare on defensve than Peyton was a talented QB. Great QB’s come around two or three times a decade but great DB’s are, at most, once a decade phenoms. Berry deserves it even if he breaks ONE game this season.

also- spikes? pssht. hes not even the best LB in the last 4 years let alone the best player on his side of the ball this decade


July 30th, 2009
8:42 am

AJC, can you ban the children from the blogs please?
You have their e-mail address and their IP information.

This is supposed to be an intelligent college football blog but these idiots are bringing it down to their level with their nonsensical drivel. They are trolls and should be banned.

By the way, Tony..I agree Peyton got hosed in 97 and I am not a UT fan.


July 30th, 2009
8:47 am

great comment mikey!


Bama Aaron

July 30th, 2009
8:53 am

Berry has no shot whatsoever at the Heisman, but he should. As a Bama man and avowed Vol hater even I will admit Peyton got screwed in 97. But the media (mostly ESPN) will put way too much coverage on the big 3 QB’s for him to have a shot.


July 30th, 2009
8:57 am

IP addreses change (unless the user pays for a static IP) and you can put whatever email address you want.


July 30th, 2009
9:01 am

Revenge?!? Peyton wasn’t the best player in the 1997 season, Woodson was! The Heisman is for the best player that particular season, not a college career achievement award! Still to this day the Vol fans don’t seem to get that. (I was up there on vacation the day that happened. All day long the Vols fans were acting like it was a coronation. I kept telling them Woodson was had the better season so unless it was a political slanted vote Manning wasn’t winning that trophy!) If Berry is the best player this season then he’ll deserve the Heisman but it won’t be “revenge” it’ll be because he would have earned it just like Woodson did in 97. Going into this season it seems like it’s going to be a coronation for Tebow but we’ll see how the season goes. Now it would be a real interesting if Berry won it over Tebow. So it could be the same storyline just 12 years later only this time adding the juice of a conference rivalry.


July 30th, 2009
9:03 am

They won an SEC championship. That is all that matters. Do people really care this much about the Heisman? Sure, it is a great individual award, but championships are what matter to me.

Class of '98

July 30th, 2009
9:08 am

Didn’t Manning throw four interceptions in the loss to Florida that year? Manning wasn’t robbed of anything in 1997. Well, maybe he was robbed of a few passes in the Swamp.

Woodson and Michigan were overrated (Nebraska would have crushed them had they played), but the Heisman voting wasn’t a travesty of justice that UT fans claim it was.

Eric Berry in AJC - VolNation

July 30th, 2009
9:08 am

[...] Eric Berry in AJC A Tony Barnhart article on Eric Berry in the today’s AJC. Could UT’s Berry exact Peyton’s Revenge? | Mr. College Football [...]


July 30th, 2009
9:15 am

Berry has no realistic shot like the others have said because of the returning three QBs. He will probably set career return yardage records this year, and deliver more highlight hits, but ultimately, he will not get the award.
Young Dawg, Woodson did not have a better season than Manning. He simply was given an award he did not deserve. There have been several defensive players more deserving than Woodson, like LeeRoy Selmon and Hugh Green. Woodson made a couple of plays against Ohio St. in a television game and that did it. His two way stats were not impressive, but it had been awhile since anyone had gone both ways so it was a novelty.
Ask the old timers, especially those at UT, and they can tell you that Carl Pickens, as a freshman, went both ways for UT, had better stats on O, D, and as a returner than Woodson did that year for UM. Pickens played for the #4 team in America that year and got not one mention for the Heisman. Sorry, rant over. I’m one of THOSE UT fans, except I didn’t bother to bombard ESPN with calls for the PR campaign for Woodson, who still takes it harder for Peyton than he does.


July 30th, 2009
9:18 am

I think people care when a player gets hosed…as Peyton did…

I agree with someone who posted earlier that the timing is what is going to ruin Eric Berry’s run at the Heisman. He could win…or at least would have a shot most years, but this year will be just too tough.

That said, he should get the invite to NYC…

BTW…YoungDawg…the only career achievement Heisman ever given was to Ron Dayne…and had Peyton Manning won it he would NOT have won based on his career…he was the “Most Outstanding Player”…not Charles Woodson…


July 30th, 2009
9:19 am

Great player but no chance. his team will go 7-5 and he will have a big year but, he won’t be able to overcome the ESPN hype machine for the 3 QB’s.

Ron Mexico

July 30th, 2009
9:19 am

Not sure I’d call it ironic if Berry won – at least not in the sense of anything to do with Manning. It’d be ironic in that Tebow wouldn’t have even been considered the best player in the conference.


July 30th, 2009
9:28 am

In my opinion, Manning deserved the Heisman over Woodson. But it’s been almost 12 years so it’s about time the UT faithful move on.

I don’t see Berry winning the Heisman this year. The Heisman seems to be more about winning a popularity contest. Tebow, Bradford and McCoy are light years ahead of him in national visibility. Plus, it’s unfair, but he’ll probably suffer some for Lane Kiffen’s pre-season notoriety.

Gator Growl

July 30th, 2009
9:35 am

Yeah, I was rooting for Peyton that year too and was so disappointed about whay happened that I even wrote a letter to the editor of the Tampa Tribune about it. Don’t think Berry’s gonna have a shot even though he is a fantastic player. He’d have to clone himself about 10 times and Tennessee will have to win the NC with him at QB AND reciever to get that trophy. It’s gonna be between McCoy and Tebow depending on how the season shakes out…


July 30th, 2009
9:38 am

He may not be the best db in the SEC. That honor might belong to Trevard Lindley of UK.


July 30th, 2009
9:39 am

st simons this isnt even a UGA article. did you beat eric berry 45-42?? ass.

Dorsey Hill

July 30th, 2009
9:39 am

UT won’t win enough games for Berry to enter the discussion. He’s not playing for Notre Dame.

Tennessee News - 7/30/09 |

July 30th, 2009
9:43 am

[...] Barnhart of The AJC wonders (as we did yesterday) if Eric Berry winning the Heisman might help Vol fans get over the fact that Peyton Manning lost the award to a defensive back.Joe [...]


July 30th, 2009
9:44 am

Winning the Heisman is huge. It’s huge for the player and it’s huge for the fans. I remember how exciting it was for my whole family when Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson won. It was great! The Auburn Nation celebrated as if we had just beaten bama. And in a way we had. There’s no Heisman Trophy in their trophy case! War Eagle!!!


July 30th, 2009
9:47 am

He has no chance, zero, of winning it. It will be interesting to see how much money UT spends promoting him. Their recruiting budget is already nearly double of everyone else in the conference because of the travel costs to California and south Florida for these 5 star players Kiffin thinks they must have. Everyone else is raiding Tennessee for the best prospects while Kiffin spends the money elsewhere.


July 30th, 2009
9:49 am

UT has started a campaign for Berry for one reason only and it has nothing to do with Berry…It is so Kiffin can get some more attention on his program. Berry is a special talent and about the only talent on the UT football team. As was said above, there wont be enough wins for UT this year for him to get consideration. But, if his name is out there, it will bring attention to UT. But to Kiffin credit, maybe he realizes that some positive attention would be a good thing as opposed to embarrassing himself and the UT program on a weekly basis.


July 30th, 2009
9:50 am

The reason Manning didn’t win it is he didn’t have a “signature” play to go along with his stats. C.Woodson had decent numbers, but he won the heisman with that crazy, body contortion interception against OSU.

Look at most of the heisman winners, they either have record setting numbers Bradford-most 60pt games, Tebow-20 rush tds as a QB, or they have decent numbers with a signature play, Flutie w/the Miami upset throw, Woodson’s interception, D.Howard’s heisman pose kickoff return against ND, R.Bush- pick a highlight. Manning should have won, but if he had beaten FL or had a couple of nationally recognized spectacular plays, he would have easily won.
This year is going to be hard for anyone not named Bradford, Tebow, or McCoy to win it. I think the voters are going to go into this season with those 3 in mind, and it will take A LOT for anyone else to be noticed or even put up for discussion.


July 30th, 2009
9:53 am

Oregon tried (in Manhattan of all places) its campaign with Joey Harrington and failed! Campaigning for the Heisman is a way to ensure your player won’t win it. Though Berry is the best defensive player in the country, playing on Kiffin’s losing team, i.e., @ Georgia, @ Alabama, and @ Florida won’t help him. Undoubtedly, Johnny Majors was screwed out of the Heisman when Notre Dame’s Hornung was unjustifiably given the award, but there are bigger offensive impact players now that Berry will have to contest with: Tebow, Bradford, McCoy, Bryant. He good, but he’s not that good. Mr. Barnhart, as you well know, having been an influential member of the group that votes for the Heisman Trophy, unfortunately there are a considerable political influences that rear their ugly heads in regard to college football’s most coveted individual award.


July 30th, 2009
9:55 am

Berry has no shot as UT won’t win enough games and he isn’t even the best player in his conference much less the country. Manning didn’t deserve the Heisman becaus he couldn’t beat his rival. Woodson excelled as DB, WR, and PR and did it on the biggest stage against his rival Ohio State. Not to mention Woodson led his team to the national title. Manning choked every year against his rival, the Gators.


July 30th, 2009
9:56 am

BTW, Paul Hornung “The Golden Boy” was twice the player Majors was and he proved it for years in the NFL. If anyone should’ve gotten other than Paul in 1956, Tommy McDonald or Jim Brown should’ve.

The Realist

July 30th, 2009
10:08 am

I disagree that Berry is the best defensive player in the league. I think Brandon Spikes is MUCH more valuable to his team and I’m not sure the same could not be said for Terrence Cody at Alabama. One last reason…. Berry is not a true leader. He’s sort of a punk, just ask his buddy Demetrice Morley. A guy like Rashad Johnson at Bama last year (walk-on that earned a scholarship and became an All-American) was an actual leader. That can, many times, prove to be much more valuable than sheer, raw athleticism.

Sorry Tony. Just disagree.


July 30th, 2009
10:16 am

Can anyone visualze any player from a southern team winning a Heisman when his team is not a contender? Paul Hornung from a 2-8 ND team, gets MUCH more media love than Eric Berry from a 7-4 UT team. (And that’s a generous 7-4 prediction!)

Did Peyton get hosed. With a capital “H” brother! The media invented a “better” candidate. (And I am NOT a big Peyton fan: personally, Archie was the best Manning QB.) But Peyton did everything asked of Heisman candidates. He returned for his senior season in an era when many thought of the Heisman as a “career award.” He led his team to great heights, if not a National Title. He was an exemplary off field role model.

Yet he was snubbed by an anti southern bias in the big city press core. The only worse Heisman result in my memory was Herschel not being named his freshman year. And yes, this from a Gator.


July 30th, 2009
10:17 am

Berry may not have a shot to win the the trophy because of the three amigos QB set coming back, but he can definitely ruin it for Tebow if he can pick off a two ot three of his passes when they face each other. Might even move him ahead of Tebow. But the lovefest for the QB’s will be the hype this season. Berry would have to come back next year to be a contender but big bucks await him in the NFL. He is simply the best defensive player in the country hands down.


July 30th, 2009
10:20 am

Eric Berry is a great football player and UT is lucky to have him. Peyton Manning should have won the heisman in 97 and if I was a vol fan than I would still be mad about it. Eric the Auburn fan said
that winning the heisman is huge and it is but, would you like to win 12 national titles or 2 Heisman
trophies? ROLL TIDE!!!!!!


July 30th, 2009
10:27 am

Didn’t Michigan win the NC that same year? I also believe that if Peyton had beaten Florida that year he would have won it, no doubt. Woodson beat OSU on the big stage making the big plays, Peyton had a hard time with UF. Glad to see Peyton win that Super Bowl though.

Kid Ray

July 30th, 2009
10:28 am

Berry is great but I like the DT from Nebraska at the next level even more. And watch out for my boy LT Anthony Davis to be a top five pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.


July 30th, 2009
10:35 am

The realist….you truly are an idiot! Have you ever watched football before? I’m seriously don’t think so. Have you seen or heard all Eric Berry does for the community of Knoxville? SEC media days was just last week…you must have missed it. You probably didn’t as you had to work two shifts at waffle house.


July 30th, 2009
10:36 am

I’m a gator and I’m pizzed that Payton didn’t get it, thought Tebow should have last year. This year one of the big three take the trophy.


July 30th, 2009
10:39 am

I just remember playing Manning when he was at UT. He was absolutely unstoppable. Best winner I’ve ever seen…


July 30th, 2009
10:43 am


IMHO, Teebow should have won it in 2008, but maybe not in 2007. He was the consumate leader last year. I think coming into this year, if you want 1 player for your line-up, it’s Teebow. Not the best qb in college football by any means, but the best football player in a long time.


July 30th, 2009
10:51 am

There was a lot of stat stuffing that season by UT/PM and it may have but them in the butt.

I can remember a game where it got explained to the former UT coach


Atlanta Gator

July 30th, 2009
10:52 am

gdawg~zoo—-The Evil Genius was in the head of Peyton Manning and his coach, and those Gator defenses coached by Bob Stoops didn’t help Manning, either.

Somehow, however, I doubt that Volunteer Nation’s wounded pride from Manning’s second place Heisman finish is motivational in 2009. The Volunteers, after all, were able to console themselves with a BCS championship in 1998, the year after Manning graduated.

Tide Rising

July 30th, 2009
10:54 am

1997 was the year I lost interest in the Heisman and realized it was just a personality contest. Peyton lost out to the hype job done by the northeast dominated media.

The fact of the matter is that Woodson’s stats as a db were a little better than average in terms of tackles, passes defended and broken up, interceptions. There were several dbs with more impressive stats. What helped him is that he returned 2 pts for tds, 1 in the Ohio State game, and ESPN kept playing the highlight reels of it over and over and freaking over ad nauseum.

The same hype machine brought Michigan a split of a national title against a Nebraska team that would have crushed Michigan had they played. This was a Nebraska team that destroyed Tennessee 45-24. The SEC was 5-0 coming into the game and 2 of those 5 victories were blowouts over a terrible big 10 conference that ultimately went 1-5 or 2-5 in bowl games. Only Michigan’s close win over a middling 8th ranked Wash State team helped them. If ever there was a media driven vote both for a national champion and Heisman this was it. An undeserving Heisman winner on an undeserving national championship team.

Loyal Homer

July 30th, 2009
10:57 am

This is a tough call. Berry is very talented but in a QB heavy year, its going to be tough for a defensive guy to win.

Tony, I referenced you on my sports blog yesterday. You and some of your colleagues here at AJC. Check it out!

Colorado Dawg

July 30th, 2009
10:57 am

Tony – Congratulations on your new College Football TV show on CSS this fall. Can’t wait for the rest of the country to hear all about football from Mr. College Football. Southern Fried Football will rule!!!!!!


July 30th, 2009
10:59 am

My first thought when I heard about the campaign for Berry was revenge for Peyton. I do think it’s a good move by Kiffen & Co. because it rallys the faithful even more. It burned us at the time and while we moved on – to be reminded does nothing but make the fire burn brighter – or should I say Oranger? And it would be awesome for Eric to even be nominated. What coach and fans wouldn’t want that for a player? On another note – because of his excitement, following Lane Kiffen on Twitter is a riot.

Got 12?

July 30th, 2009
11:09 am

The Heisman race is a glorified popularity contest. I remember watching in stunned silence as Woodson was announced as the winner. Peyton got robbed, and I loved it. I hate UT.


July 30th, 2009
11:12 am

Berry won’t win the Heisman if he doesn’t play on offense, period!