By Sports Illustrated
Mr. Tee: Martin was 11-of-18 for 278 yards with two touchdown passes to seal a national championship for the Vols |
TEMPE, Arizona (AP) -- Peyton Manning set all the records. Tee Martin got a national title by completing a perfect season.
Martin, who spent the previous two seasons in the shadow of top NFL draft pick Manning, was the star Monday night as No. 1 Tennessee defeated Florida State 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.
"It feels great, it feels great," Martin said in the middle of a wild celebration at midfield. "We had to prove to everybody we were the No. 1 team in the nation. All the adversity we faced - all the guys that went to the NFL last year, all the shoes we had to fill.
"We had a chip on our shoulders," Martin said of the Vols' underdog status for the game despite being the nation's top-ranked team. "We won all our games, we were 12-0, and we still didn't get our respect."
Martin, who was 11-of-18 for 278 yards, had touchdown passes of 79 yards to Peerless Price and 4 yards to Shawn Bryson.
"He played an outstanding game," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He knows how to manage a game. He gives you a threat as a runner, he's very difficult to defend. As the season has gone along, he's gotten better and better. I would not trade Tee Martin for anyone in the country."
Martin had thrown just 16 passes in his first two seasons at Tennessee.
"It was like we didn't exist at the university for a couple of years," the junior said last week, recalling how tough it was to be in Manning's shadow for two seasons.
But patience is something Martin learned during a tough childhood in which he changed addresses 22 times and lost a dozen friends to violence or illness. His Volunteers teammates marvel at how he always remains calm under pressure.
"You can tell by each guy's personality what his childhood was like," Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson said. "I've never seen Tee Martin nervous, and I think that's one of his biggest attributes. He's always relaxed."
Martin was shuttled between his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother as a child, learning to adapt quickly to changing situations. The loss of so many friends caused him to develop a cool detachment that keeps him calm on the field.
Such an attitude served him well Monday night against the best pass defense in the country this season.
His first scoring pass, in the second period to Bryson, was set up by a 76-yard bomb to Price. His second TD toss, in the fourth quarter, was another long heave to Price.
And Martin, despite taking a hit in the third quarter that still left him woozy after the game, stayed calm in the closing minutes as Tennessee struggled to hold on to a 23-16 lead.
On a fourth-and-1 play deep in Florida State territory, he completed a swing pass to Bryson to keep the drive alive and run more time off the clock.
"I was surprised to get a pass called when it was fourth and that close," he said. "He was so wide open, I just had to make sure I didn't overthrow him or underthrow him."
Martin, who completed an NCAA-record 24 consecutive passes in a two-game span this season against Alabama and South Carolina, has accounted for 28 touchdowns this season -- 21 through the air and seven on the ground.
And he has done it all with barely a touch of nervousness.
"I just don't get butterflies," he said. "I'm just ready to play on game day. I know how to adjust my attitude before a game."
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